Boswell Sisters, The

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Boswell Sisters, The

Boswell Sisters, The, American vocal group. The Boswell Sisters were the most successful singing group of the first half of the 1930s, injecting a distinctly jazz flavor into their intricate arrangements and improvised harmonies. They scored a series of record hits between 1931 and 1936, the most popular of which was “The Object of My Affection/’ They also made personal appearances and performed on radio and in films.

membership: Martha (b. Kansas City, 1905; d. July 2, 1958); Constance, known as Connie, then Connee (b. Kansas City, Dec. 2, 1907; d. N.Y., Oct. 11, 1976); and Helvetia, known as Vet (b. Birmingham, Ala., 1909; d. Nov. 12, 1988). Their parents and their aunt and uncle—two brothers who had married two sisters—were a singing quartet. Raised in New Orleans, the sisters learned to play musical instruments (Martha, pno.; Connie, cello; Vet, vln.) and played in the New Orleans Philharmonic Orch. They turned to singing and playing popular music, as Connie learned to play saxophone and guitar, Vet banjo and guitar. But soon Martha’s piano was their only onstage instrument. They first appeared at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans in 1925, then on local radio. They made their first recordings the same year for a field representative from Victor Records. Both original compositions, the issued songs were “Nights When I’m Lonely” credited to the trio, and “Cryin’ Blues” credited to Connie alone.

The Boswell Sisters had their first out-of-town booking in Chicago in 1928, and this led to radio appearances in L.A. in 1930; they recorded again for Victor and for OKeh during the year. But they first gained national attention in early 1931, when they moved to N.Y., began appearing on Rudy Vallée’s network radio show, and signed to Brunswick Records. They scored their first hit in April 1931 with “When I Take My Sugar to Tea” (music and lyrics by Sammy Fain, Irving Kahal, and Pierre Norman Connor), on which they were accompanied by the studio band led by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. They appeared regularly on Bing Crosby’s radio show and were featured with him on records, notably a 12-inch disc containing “Gems from George White’s Scandals” in the fall of 1931, and in the October 1932 film The Big Broadcast. They toured Europe in 1933 and appeared in two more films in 1934, Moulin Rouge in February and Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round in October. They scored their biggest hit with “The Object of My Affection” (music and lyrics by Pinky Tomlin, Coy Poe, and Jimmie Grier) in January 1935.

All three sisters married during 1935: Vet to John Paul Jones; Martha to record executive George Lloyd; and Connie to Harold Leedy, the group’s manager. The breakup of the group was precipitated by Vet’s pregnancy. They made their final recordings in early 1936, and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” (music by Fred E. Ahlert, lyrics by Joe Young) spent six weeks in the hit parade starting in February. Martha and Vet retired, while Connie, the group’s lead singer, who had made solo records throughout the group’s tenure, launched a solo career. Martha lived in Peekskill, N.Y., until her death in 1958 at 53. Connie (who had changed the spelling of her name to “Connee” in the 1940s) died of cancer in 1976 at 68. Vet, who had moved to Peekskill after the death of her husband in the early 1970s, died in 1988.

—William Ruhlmann