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Boswell, Connee (actually, Constance Foore)

Boswell, Connee (actually, Constance Foore)

Boswell, Connee (actually, Constance Foore) , American singer and actress; b. Kansas City, Dec. 2, 1907; d. N.Y., Oct. 11, 1976. With her siblings as the Boswell Sisters in the early 1930s and as a solo performer thereafter, Boswell was a popular jazz-oriented vocalist on records, radio, film, and television. Her biggest solo hits included “On the Beach at Bali-Bali,” “On the Isle of May,” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” as well as several duets with Bing Crosby.

Boswell grew up in New Orleans. She was struck by polio as a child, the illness complicated by a fall that kept her in a wheelchair for life. Nevertheless, she studied music and cello with Otto Finck and, like her sisters, performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic Orch. She turned to popular music and learned to play saxophone, trombone, and guitar. When she and her sisters formed a singing trio, it was she who wrote the group’s arrangements. On their first recording, for Victor in 1925, she was allowed a solo side, “Cryin’ Blues,” and while the group experimented with different vocal blends, she usually sang lead.

When the sisters moved to N.Y. and signed to Brunswick Records, Boswell also recorded solo, scoring her first hit with “Say It Isn’t So” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin) in October 1932. In 1935 she married Harold Leedy, the group’s manager; they remained married until his death in the early 1970s. Both of her sisters also married in 1935, and they retired in 1936, leaving her to turn to solo work full-time.

Having followed record executive Jack Kapp from Brunswick to Decca, Boswell continued to record, placing “On the Beach at Bali-Bali” (music and lyrics by Al Sherman, Jack Meskill, and Abner Silver) in the hit parade for 11 weeks during the summer of 1936. She became a regular guest on the Kraft Music Hall radio series hosted by Bing Crosby and recorded a series of popular duets with him, notably “Bob White (Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight?)” (music by Bernard Hanighen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer; 1937) and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; 1938). She also made her first solo appearance in a film, Artists and Models (August 1937), in which she sang the Academy Award-nominated “Whispers in the Dark” (music by Frederick Hollander, lyrics by Leo Robin).

Boswell spent nine weeks in the hit parade in the spring of 1940 with “On the Isle of May” (music by André Kostelanetz, adapted from the Andante Cantabile movement in Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet in D Major, lyrics by Mack David). She appeared in the films Kiss the Boys Goodbye (August 1941) and Syncopation (May 1942) and had a Top Ten hit with “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn) in February 1946, backed by Russ Morgan and His Orch. (By this time she had changed the spelling of her first name from Connie to Connee.) She also appeared in the film Swing Parade of 1946.

Boswell was less active from the 1950s on, though she scored a final Top Ten hit with “If I Give My Heart to You” (music and lyrics by Jimmie Crane, Al Jacobs, and Jimmy Brewster) in October 1954. She concluded her recording career with a look back to her jazz roots, the LP Connee Boswell and the Original Memphis Five in Hi-Fi, released by RCA Victor in 1956. She made her last film appearance in Senior Prom in December 1958, then costarred in the dramatic TV series Pete Kelly’s Blues from April to September 1959. She continued to appear as a guest star on television into the 1960s. She died of cancer at the age of 68 in 1976.

Discography

“On the Beach at Bali-Bali” (1936); “On the Isle of May” (1940); “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (1946); “If I Give My Heart to You” (1954); Connee Boswell and the Original Memphis Five in Hi-Fi (1956).

—William Ruhlmann

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