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Three Famous Sister Acts From Yesteryear

Three Famous Sister Acts From Yesteryear

The “Boswell Sisters” are arguably best-remembered as the earliest pioneers of the all female close-harmony group. The vocal trio consisted of three siblings: Martha  (b. 1905), Connie (b. 1907), and Helvetia “Vet” (b. 1911). They managed to gain celebrity status as children in their hometown of New Orleans, virtue of the new medium of radio. The sisters began touring on the Vaudeville circuit in the early 1920s to great public acclaim. By the early 1930s, nationwide exposure through radio and film saw them gain prominence across the whole of the country.

Here’s a brief narrative on just three of the many “singing sister” groups who have followed and owe a sense of gratitude to the Boswell Sisters:

The Andrew Sisters

Photo credit: PICRYL/PDM 1.0 Universal

The Andrews Sisters were a hugely popular American musical act of the 1940s and ’50s. The melodic trio was made up of female siblings LaVerne (b. 1911), Maxene (b. 1916) and Patricia (b. 1918). Born in Minnesota to a Greek father and a mother of Norwegian heritage, the sisters readily took to the stage as children. They quickly became renowned for their close harmonies and later, for their lively swing and boogie-woogie renditions. In 1937, they made their first studio recording to become a singing sensation by the end of the year.

The sisters’ biggest and best-known hits include Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (1941), Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (1942), Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (1944) and Rum and Coca-Cola (1945). As well as teaming up with the legendary Bing Crosby to record 43 songs they also appeared in 17 Hollywood films. Their other famous musical collaborations included Danny Kaye, Burl Ives and Carmen Miranda, and film-wise, with Abbot and Costello.

Though the sisters’ fame declined somewhat in the post-war years their act remained popular into the 1960s. Sadly, in 1966, LaVerne was forced to retire after being diagnosed with cancer and died the following year. Maxene and Patricia carried on performing, mostly separately, until the 1980s and 90s, respectively. With peacemaker LaVerne gone, the sisters endured a strained relationship for the rest of their lives. Maxene died in 1995, following a heart attack, and Patricia in 2013, aged 95 years old.

The Andrews Sisters recorded over 700 songs and sold over 80 million records. The siblings also managed to collect nine gold awards along the way.

The Beverley Sisters

Photo credit: Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The Beverley Sisters were a close-harmony pop vocal trio popular during the 1950s and ’60s. The sibling group consisted of eldest sister Joycelyn (1924) and twins Hazel (b. 1927) and Babette (b. 1927), who became better known as Joy, Teddie and Babs, respectively. They were born in Bethnal Green, London to Music Hall performers George and Victoria Chinery. The trio originally performed as the Chinery Sisters but changed it to the Beverley Sisters in 1944, after being awarded a contract by the BBC.

The Beverley Sisters loosely styled themselves on their American counterparts, “The Andrews Sisters”. One of their biggest UK hits was the Irving Berlin song “Sisters”. Originally written for the 1954 film “White Christmas”, Berlin is reputed to have wrote the song with the Beverley Sisters in mind. Their other popular songs include “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1953) and “Little Drummer Boy” (1959), both reaching No. 6 in the UK charts. In 1956, they made their only entry on the USA’s Billboard chart with their own arrangement of “Greensleeves”.

The Beverley Sisters were reportedly the UK’s highest-paid female artists during the 1950s and ’60s. While their career nosedived in the 1970s it saw a revival in the 80s’ after the sisters were invited to perform again. In 2002, the siblings enjoyed the limelight once again after performing for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations and the 50th anniversary of the Royal Variety Show. In 2004, they also participated in the D-Day 60th anniversary memorial concerts.

In 2002, the Beverley sisters entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest-surviving vocal group without a change of line-up. In 2006, the sisters were each awarded an MBE. In 2015, Babs died from cancer, aged 91. Joy lived another 3 years, dying in 2018, also aged 91. Teddy survives to the present day (May 2024), aged 97.

The McGuire Sisters

Photo credit: Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The McGuire Sisters were a beloved American close-harmony trio of the 1950s and ’60s. Often mistaken for triplets, the sibling group consisted of Ruby (b. 1926), Dorothy “Dottie” (b. 1928) and Phyllis (b. 1931). The sisters were born in Middleton, Ohio to a steelworker father and a pastor mother. They began performing together as children, singing gospel at church and religious events. In 1949, they were discovered by a talent scout at a revival meeting in Dayton and quickly became a popular vocal trio act.

The sisters most popular songs were “Sincerely” (1955) and “Sugartime” (1958), which both reached No. 1 on the USA’s Billboard charts. Some of their other most popular songs include “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” (1954), “Something’s Gotta Give” (1955), “He” (1955) and “May You Always” (1959). During the 1960s, the sisters frequently appeared on America’s most popular TV variety shows. Throughout their career, they performed live for five US Presidents. And, in 1961, appeared at London’s Royal Variety Show in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II.

The sisters last national public performance was on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1968. Still, at the height of their fame, the disbandment was blamed on Phyllis’ association with mobster Sam Giancana. The couple’s long-term relationship was judged to impact the trio’s public popularity. Phyllis pursued a solo singing career, while Christine became a successful businesswoman and Dorothy a housewife.

However, in 1986, the sisters agreed to give a special performance at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel. Following rave reviews, the sisters rekindled their act to give regular nightclub performances for several years. After that, they gave the occasional performance up until 2004, lastly appearing on a PBS “Magic Moments” Special.

In 2013, Dorothy, suffering from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, died in Paradise Valley, Arizona, aged 84. Christine died 5 years later in Las Vegas, Nevada, aged 92, from unknown causes. In 2020, the last surviving sister, Phyllis, died of natural causes at home in Las Vegas, Nevada, aged 89.


Header image credit: PICRYL/PDM 1.0

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