The McGuire Sisters
The McGuire Sisters
The most popular female singing group of the 1950s and well into the 1960s was the McGuire Sisters. They earned the crown by easily edging out the Chor-dettes and the Fontane Sisters. Through their exceptional talent in harmony, they became America’s favorites as well as around the world. Asa McGuire, a veteran steelworker with Armco Steel, who played guitar and Lillie, an ordained minister and pastorof the Miamisburg, Ohio First Chu rch of God were the parents of the talented trio that included, Christine, born July 30, 1928, Dorothy, born February 13, 1930 and Phyllis, born February 14, 1931 in Middleton, Ohio to Asa, a steelworker who played guitar, and Lillie McGuire, an ordanined minister and pastor.
In 1935 when Phyllis was only four they began to sing in the choir and soon realized their uncanny knackfor close harmony. Theirfoundation was Gospel, and throughout high school, they performed at church events, weddings, funerals, Sunday school picnics as well in senior citizen’s homes. They also sang at revival meetings, where they would gather “love offerings” after the service to pay their expenses. Times were hard and they often didn’t collect enough to pay gasoline expenses. But they always got a handshake, heard some wish “May the Good Lord Richly Bless You” and gained plenty of experience. Their voices blended so uniformly, their parents could not tell them apart over the telephone.
The sisters were forbidden by their parents to listen to secular music, forcing them to sneak and listen to their favorites like the Andrews Sisters and the Dinning Sisters over the radio. In 1949, they switched from hymns to popular music and began singing at military and veterans hospitals touring for nine months with the USO. Sunday mornings were spent singing in Baptist and Methodist churches and when they returned to Ohio they began a religious radio program that was broadcast daily on Dayton Radio Station WLW from their mother’s church in Miamisburg.
They were singing on the radio when agent Karl Taylor and his wife, Inez heard their performance in their car. He drove to the church and offered to help them by booking them in a Dayton Hotel. One month later they were singing with Taylor’s band at the Van Cleef Hotel in Dayton, Ohio. They soon began appearing regularly in supper clubs and performing on local television stations.
While modeling, and holding down multiple jobs, they decided to go to New York and audition for Arthur Godfrey’s Show. They took their savings, borrowed some additional money, and went to New York where they learned Godfrey was on vacation. Still, they landed an eight week stint in 1952 on Kate Smith’s radio show.
Members include Christine McGuire, born July 30, 1928, in Middleton, OH, vocals; Dorothy McGuire born February 13, 1930, in Middleton, OH, married Lowell Williamson, vocals; Phyllis McGuire born February 14, 1931 in Middleton, OH, vocals; all daughters of Asa, (a steelworker) and Lillie McGuire, (an ordained minister and pastor of the First Church of God in Miamisburg, OH). Education: All studied with vocal Instructor Mrs. Helen Ramsdell.
The most popular female singing group in the United States during the fifties and sixties; placed eight songs in the top twenty in the United States ; debuted on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, 1952; replaced the Chordettes;.charted more hits than any other female singing group from December 1952 until September 1961; Phyllis appeared in the 1964 film Come Blow Your Horn with Frank Sinatra; the group appeared before Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and at George Bush’s 1989 inauguration and a command performance for the Queen of England; ended their careers, 1968 during the peak of their popularity; Phyllis began performing as a comedienne and singing for Reprise Records; performed at family functions only for the next seventeen years; banded together and for six months in 1985 continued to perform all over the world in venues from Las Vegas to Chicago’s Drury Lane Theater to London.
Awards: Broadcasters Hall of Fame; Las Vegas Casino Entertainers Hall of Fame; Middletown High School Hall of Fame, Middletown, OH.
Afterward they returned to Ohio and later returned to New York. By December 1 st, they had won the talent competition on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts television program having auditioned with the Academy Award winning song “Mona Lisa” and “Pretty Eyed Baby.” They were signed to Godfrey’s morning show and replaced the Chordettes,. They remained on Godfrey’s show for six years.
In 1952, they were also signed to perform underthe Coral Records label supervised by Gordon Jenkins. After Jenkins left Coral and went to Capitol, Bob Thiele was hired to replace him andbrought in top flight musicians to complement the McGuires. From July 1954 until January 1958, they placed the following singles in the top 20: “Goodnight, Sweetheart Goodnight” in 1954; “Muskrat Ramble” in 1954; “No More” in 1955; “He” in 1955; “Picnic” in 1956; “Sincerely” in 1955—number one for ten weeks— “Something’s Gotta Give” in 1955; “Sugartime” in 1958; “May You Always” in 1958; and “Just for Old Time’s Sake” in 1961.
Cosmopolitan’s November 1953 issue called them “Godfrey’s Merry McGuires.” In 1955 they recorded Johnny Mercer’s “Something’s Gotta Give” from the Fred Astaire musical Daddy Long Legs and both Mercer and Astaire were present at the recording. It rose to number five on the charts and was the first of several hits that were included in motion pictures. They also made their rendition of “Heart” from the Broadway show, Damn Yankees and in the version, their arranger Murray Kane actually joined in the harmony.
In 1956 Thiele asked entertainer Steve Allen, a former high school classmate of singer Mel Torme, to write a lyric for the popular theme to the blockbuster motion picture Picnic that had starred William Holden, Kim Novak and marked the debut of Cliff Robertson. The McGuire Sister’s recording rose to number 13 and was followed by “Delilah Jones” at number 37 from the film The Man With the Golden Armthat starred Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. They also recorded “Weary Blues” with Lawrence Welk that rose to Number 32.
In 1957 they recorded “Sugartime” with Steve Allen at the piano and it became their signature song. The word “sugar” appears twenty eight times in the song’s two and one half minutes. The March issue of Life Magazine featured the McGuires on the cover and reported they were the best selling vocal group of the time. That same year Coral Records decided they should record their version of “Around the World in 80 Days” the theme from Mike Todd’s film that starred David Niven. The McGuires were flown from Nevada to San Francisco by sea plane, cut the recording and returned for an evening show in Las Vegas.
In 1968 one of their last performances was on The Ed Sullivan Show, which broadcast from Las Vegas’s Caesar’s Palace. At the peak of their popularity in 1968, the McGuire Sisters decided to end their careers with Christine and Dorothy devoting their time to their families. Phyllis, an excellent entertainer and skilled comedienne went solo and performed with many singers and other personalities including Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Carson. She also appeared in the film Come Blow Your Horn with Frank Sinatra, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Rush and Jill St. John.
For the next seventeen years the only time the McGuire Sisters performed was when they were together atfamily gatherings. But in 1985 they decided to make a comeback and for six rigorous months they rehearsed at Phyllis’s home in Las Vegas. They opened at Harrah’s in Reno, Nevada and were met with enthusiastic fans and they have sustained that warm acceptance through the years.
They have performed before Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush at his inaugural ball in Washington as well as in front of Queen Elizabeth. They have continued to do the Las Vegas/Reno circuit into the 1990’s as well as appearing all across the United States.
All three sisters are active in their communities giving endless hours of time to humanitarian causes and other philanthropic work including a performance on the Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in 1991. Phyllis is known as Las Vegas’s leading hostess and its unofficial ambassador entertaining royalty, social and the business elite in her 50, 00 square foot French Provincial estate home. It is filled with expensive artwork and priceless memorabilia that span overfourdecades of her work in the world of entertainment. Today, Christine enjoys an active social life in Las Vegas and is an avid golfer. Dorothy and her husband of forty years, Lowell Williamson, live in Scottsdale, Arizona, where they are also active in community affairs and philanthropic activities.
By Request, Coral.
Children’s Holiday, Coral.
Do You Remember When?, Coral.
Dottle, Chris, Phyllis, Coral.
Greetings from the McGuire Sisters, Coral.
In Harmony With Him, Coral.
Just For Old Time’s Sake, Coral.
May You Always, Coral.
McGuire Sisters Sing Songs Everybody Knows, Coral.
Musical Magic, Coral.
Teenage Dance Party, Coral.
While the Lights Are Low, Coral.
McGuire Sisters, The Anthology, MCA.
McGuire Sisters, 36 All-Time Greatest Hits, MCA.
McGuire Sisters, Greatest Hits, UNI-MCA.
Do You Remember When/While the Lights Are Low, Jasmine(UK).
Lax, Roger& Frederick Smith, The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford Univ. Press 1989.
Maltin, Leonard, Movie and Video Guide 1995, Penguin Books Ltd., 1994.
McAleer, Dave, The All Music Book of Hit Singles, Miller Freeman Books, 1994.
Osborne, Jerry, Rockin Records, Osborne Publications 1999.
Warner, Jay, The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups, A History 1940-1990, Billboard Books 1992.
Life Magazine, March 17, 1958.
“McGuire Sisters,” The Wire: News from the Associated Press, www.Enquirer.com/editions/1998/05/09/midhall.html,(September 1999).
“King Curtis,” www.crl.com/tsimon/curtis.htm,(September 1999).
The Middletown Journal News, www.middletown.com/feature/ramsdell.htm,(September, 1999).
Additional information was obtained through an interview with Phyllis McGuire on September 2, 1999; and from the linernotesof, The McGuire Sisters, The Anthologyby Joseph Laredo.
—Francis D. McKinley
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