Andrews Sisters, The

views updated

Andrews Sisters, The

Andrews Sisters, The, American singing group. Membership:LaVerne Sophie Andrews (b. Mound, Minn., July 6, 1911; d. Los Angeles, May 8, 1967); Maxene Angelyn Andrews (b. Mound, Minn., Jan. 3, 1916; d. Hyannis, Mass., Oct. 21, 1995); Patricia Marie (Patty or Patti) Andrews (b. Mound, Minn., Feb. 16, 1918). The Andrews Sisters were the most popular female vocal group of the first half of the 20th century. A lively act combining humor with eclectic novelty songs featuring intricate, rhythmic arrangements, they scored 20 Top Ten hits between 1938 and 1950, the most popular being “Shoo-Shoo Baby,” “Rum and Coca-Cola,” and “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” They also made a series of recordings with Bing Crosby, hitting the Top Ten another 12 times between 1943 and 1951, notably with “Pistol Packin’ Mama” “(ThereTl Be A) Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marching In)” and “Don’t Fence Me In.” They also became stars of radio and film, and Patty and Maxene enjoyed renewed success on Broadway in the 1970s.

The Andrews Sisters were the children of Peter and Olga Sollie Andrews, who ran a café in Minneapolis. The four began performing at local talent contests and made their first professional appearance at the Or-pheum Theatre in Minneapolis in December 1932. In November 1933 they were hired by bandleader Larry Rich to join his vaudeville troupe. They toured the Midwest RKO circuit with Rich until mid-1934, then found jobs singing with bands. In March 1937 they made their recording debut as part of the orchestra of Leon Belasco. Belasco disbanded his troupe soon after, and the sisters spent the summer in N.Y. While appearing with Billy Swanson’s Orch. at the Hotel Edison, they were heard on a local radio broadcast by the A&R director of Decca Records, who signed them. Their second Decca single, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön” (music by Sholom Secunda, English lyrics by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin), derived from the Yiddish theater, and its novelty appeal made it a success: it topped the hit parade in January 1938.

The Andrews Sisters began to make personal appearances in the Northeast, proving to be effective dancers and comediennes as well as singers. (They also began studying singing with Helen Fouts Cahoon.) They joined the cast of the radio series Honolulu Bound in January 1939, and by the end of the year were being featured on Glenn Miller’s Chesterfield Time show. They reentered the hit parade in April 1939 with the rhythmic novelty song “Hold Tight” (music and lyrics by Leonard Kent, Edward Robinson, Leonard Ware, Jerry Brandow, and Willie Spots wood).

In 1940 the Andrews Sisters were signed to Universal Pictures and moved to the West Coast, where they made a series of films over the next five years. The first was Argentine Nights, which opened in October 1940. In December they scored a Top Ten hit with “Ferryboat Serenade (La Piccinina)” (music by Eldo di Lazzaro, English lyrics by Mario Panzeri). Their second film, Buck Privates, in which they appeared with the comedy team Abbott and Costello, was released in February. In it they sang “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (music by Hughie Prince, lyrics by Don Raye), which became a chart record for them, and the 1920 song “(I’ll Be with You) In Apple Blossom Time” (music by Albert Von Tilzer, lyrics by Neville Fleeson), which they revived for a Top Ten hit.

Maxene Andrews married Lou Levy, a music publisher and the Andrews Sisters’ personal manager, in March 1941; they adopted two children, then divorced in 1951. The sisters quickly followed up the success of Buck Privates with two more films in which they were featured with Abbott and Costello, In the Navy, released in June 1941, and Hold That Ghost, released in August. The U.S. entry into World War II in December 1941 and the beginning of the musicians union recording ban in August 1942 focused the sisters’ activities on entertaining at military bases and making films. They appeared in three pictures released in 1942: What’s Cookiri in Feb.; Private Buckaroo in June; and Give Out, Sisters in Aug. They scored their next Top Ten hit with “Strip Polka” (music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer) in November.

The Andrews Sisters appeared in another four films released in 1943—How’s About It?, Always a Bridesmaid, Swingtime Johnny, and Moonlight and Cactus—but these were low-budget B-pictures. Their career took a considerable upturn in the fall of that year, when Decca Records settled with the musicians’ union more than a year ahead of the other major labels, allowing its artists to dominate the charts. The sisters began recording extensively on their own and in partnership with Bing Crosby, resulting in a string of hits, many of which had patriotic themes. “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (music and lyrics by Al Dexter), with Crosby, was in the Top Ten in December 1943 and sold a million copies. In January 1944 they topped the charts with “Shoo-Shoo Baby” (music and lyrics by Phil Moore) and reached the Top Ten with Crosby with “Vict’ry Polka” (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn). “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (music and lyrics by Nat “King” Cole and Irving Mills) was a Top Ten hit in August 1944. Both sides of the Crosby-Andrews single “(There’ll Be A) Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marching In)” (music by Joe Bushkin, lyrics by John De Vries) and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma Baby)” (music and lyrics by Billy Austin and Louis Jordan) reached the charts in September, with the former hitting #1 and the latter #2.

Their next record with Crosby, “Don’t Fence Me In” (music and lyrics by Cole Porter)/“The Three Caballeros” (music by Manuel Esperon, English lyrics by Ray Gilbert), was a million-seller, with “Don’t Fence Me In” going to #1 in December and “The Three Caballeros” reaching the Top Ten. Crosby and the Andrews Sisters were the top two recording artists of 1944. The sisters also appeared in two all-star films during the year, Follow the Boys in April and Hollywood Canteen in December. At the end of the year they began their own weekly radio series, The Andrews Sisters’ Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch, broadcast on Sunday afternoons.

The Andrews Sisters began 1945 with the biggest hit of the year, the million-selling “Rum and Coca-Cola” (music and lyrics by Morey Amsterdam, Paul Baron, and Jeri Sullivan, based on a song with music and lyrics by Massie Patterson and Lionel Belasco), which went to #1 in Feb. Their next two Top Ten hits came in partnership with Bing Crosby, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer) in March and “Along the Navajo Trail” (music and lyrics by Dick Charles, Eddie DeLange, and Larry Markes) in October. They also returned to the Top Ten on their own in October with “The Blond Sailor” (music by Jacob Pfeil, English lyrics by Mitchell Parish and Bell Leib). They concluded their Universal Pictures contract with the release of Her Lucky Night, and in October their radio series was refashioned as The N-K [for the sponsor, Nash-Kelvinator automobiles] Musical Showroom, running on Wednesday evenings through the end of March 1946.

The Andrews Sisters’ next Top Ten hit, in February 1946, was “Money Is the Root of All Evil (Take It Away, Take It Away, Take It Away)” (music and lyrics by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer); on it they were co-billed with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. In April their voices were heard in the animated Disney feature Make Mine Music! In September they reached the Top Ten of the album charts with The Andrews Sisters. They returned to the Top Ten of the singles chart with Crosby in November singing the million-seller “South America, Take It Away” (music and lyrics by Harold Rome); with Les Paul in Dec. with “Rumors Are Flying” (music and lyrics by Bennie Benjamin and George David Weiss); and with Lombardo at the end of the year with the million-selling “Christmas Island” (music and lyrics by Lyle L. Moraine).

In 1947 the Andrews Sisters began appearing on the Your Hit Parade and Club Fifteen radio series. Expanding their touring activities internationally, they performed in London in June and July. They again partnered with Bing Crosby for “Tallahassee” (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser), which reached the Top Ten in July, then returned to the Top Ten on their own with “Near You” (music by Francis Craig, lyrics by Kermit Goell) in October and “The Lady from 29 Palms” (music and lyrics by Allie Wrubel) in November. Patty Andrews married Martin Melcher on Oct. 19, 1947; they divorced on March 30, 1950. In December the Andrews Sisters finally appeared onscreen with Bing Crosby, singing “You Don’t Have to Know the Language” in Road to Rio. They reached the Top Ten that same month with comedian Danny Kaye singing “Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)” (music and lyrics by Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman).

The Andrews Sisters were the top recording artists of 1948, scoring ten chart entries during the year, including the Top Ten hits “Toolie Oolie Doolie (The Yodel Polka)” (music by Arthur Beul, English lyrics by Vaughn Horton) in May, “You Call Everybody Darling” (music and lyrics by Sam Martin, Ben Trace, and Clem Watts) in October, and “Underneath the Arches” (music and lyrics by Reg Connelly and Bud Flanagan, additional lyrics in the U.S. by Joseph McCarthy) in November. In May they lent their voices to the animated Disney feature Melody Time. La Verne Andrews married Louis Rogers later that year.

The Andrews Sisters’ biggest success of 1949 came at the end of the year with the release of “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” (music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Irving Kahal), which featured a solo lead performance by Patty, in contrast to the group harmonies that usually characterized the sisters’ recordings; it topped the charts in January 1950 and sold a million copies. They also scored a Top Ten hit with Bing Crosby, “Quicksilver” (music and lyrics by Irving Taylor, George Wyle, and Edward Pola), in March 1950 and returned to #1 with “I Wanna Be Loved” (music by John Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman and Billy Rose) in June.

The Andrews Sisters’ popularity declined after 1950. They scored a final Top Ten hit with Crosby in “Sparrow in the Tree Top” (music and lyrics by Bob Merrill). Patty Andrews married the group’s accompanist, Walter Weschler, on Christmas Day 1951. Decca had begun to record Patty as a solo artist after the success of “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” After the sisters’ contract lapsed at the end of 1953, she launched a solo career and signed to Capitol Records, while LaVerne and Maxene performed as a duo for a time, then separately By June 1956, however, the group was reunited, and by September they were recording for Capitol. In 1961 they moved to Dot Records, remaining with the label until 1965. LaVerne Andrews became ill with cancer in 1966, and Maxene and Patty continued to perform with a replacement. LaVerne died at 55 in 1967. Maxene and Patty split up in 1968, with Patty returning to solo work and Maxene retiring from music to teach at Lake Tahoe Paradise Coll. of Fine Arts in Nev.

Patty Andrews appeared in Victory Canteen (Los Angeles, Jan. 27, 1971), a musical set during World War IL Bette Midler scored a Top Ten hit in July 1973, and two Andrews Sisters compilation albums, The Best of the Andrews Sisters and Boogie Woogie Bugle Girls, later reached the charts, while the producers of Victory Canteen refashioned it into Over Here!, starring both surviving Andrews sisters, which opened on Broadway on March 6, 1974; it ran for 341 performances, and the cast album charted. Afterward, Patty and Maxene worked as solo performers. Maxene was on vacation from her role in the Off-Broadway musical Showtime Canteen (N.Y., March 14, 1995) when she died of a heart attack in 1995 at 79.


Merry Christmas (1950); Berlin Songs (1951); Tropical Songs (1951); Christmas Cheer (1951); The Andrews Sisters in Hi-Fi (1957); Boogie Woogie Bugle Girls (1973); Over Here! (1974); The Best of the Andrews Sisters (1977); The Andrews Sisters 50th Anniversary Collection, Vol. 1&2 (1987); Greatest Hits (1990); The Andrews Sisters: Capitol Collectors Series (1991); Their All-Time Greatest Hits (1994); Greatest Hits: The 60th Anniversary Collection (1998); V-Disc Recordings (1999); 20th Century Masters—The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Andrews Sisters (2000); Cocktail Hour: The Andrews Sisters (2000).


M. Andrews and B. Gilbert, Over Here, Over There: The A. S. and the USO Stars in World War II (N.Y., 1993).

—William Ruhlmann

About this article

Andrews Sisters, The

Updated About content Print Article