Andrews, Maxene Angelyn

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Andrews, Maxene Angelyn

(b. 3 January 1916 in Minneapolis, Minnesota; d. 21 October 1995 in Hyannis, Massachusetts), singer who had a long recording and performing career as a member of the Andrews Sisters.

Andrews was the second daughter of Peter Andrews and Olga Sollie, café owners in Minneapolis. She was four and a half years younger than her sister La Verne Sophie and two years older than her sister Patricia Marie. The sisters began singing together at talent contests, and after winning a contest at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis in April 1931, they were hired by the bandleader Larry Rich. They toured with Rich from the summer of 1931 to the summer of 1932, after which they sang with big bands. While working with Leon Belasco’s Orchestra, they made their first recordings in March 1937, but when Belasco disbanded his group, the sisters were stranded in New York City. They planned to give up show business and return to Minnesota, but a one-night job singing over the radio earned them a contract with Decca Records. Their first Decca single flopped, but their second, a novelty recording of an English-language version of the Yiddish show tune “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” became a surprise hit, topping the charts in January 1938.

On the strength of their hit the sisters began performing live and in 1939 were being broadcast on the radio. Their next major hit came in early 1939 with the nonsense song “Hold Tight”; during that year they also scored with a series of upbeat tunes, many of which had an ethnic flavor, including “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Well All Right,” “Yodelin’ Jive” (on which they were paired with Bing Crosby), and “Say ‘Si, Si.’” In 1940 they signed with Universal Pictures, which used them in a series of low-budget films through 1945, starting with Argentine Nights (1940). In their second film, Buck Privates (1941), they performed “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which became a signature song for them, and revived “(I’ll Be with You) In Apple Blossom Time,” their next major hit.

In March 1941 Maxene married Lou Levy, the group’s personal manager. She and Levy adopted two children and divorced in 1951. With the U.S. entry into World War II in December 1941, the Andrews Sisters began making frequent appearances at military bases. When their recording activities were curtailed by the ban called by the musicians union in August 1942, they spent more time in Hollywood, appearing in three films in 1942 and another three in 1943. In the fall of 1943, a year ahead of its competitors RCA Victor and Columbia, Decca settled with the union, freeing its artists to record, and the Andrews Sisters were again paired with Bing Crosby for the million-selling “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Their own “Shoo-Shoo Baby” topped the charts in January 1944, and they scored a series of hits with Crosby throughout the year, including “(There’ll Be a) Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marching In)” (number one in October), “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma’ Baby),” and “Don’t Fence Me In” (number one in December and a million-seller). They also released three films and, in December, began starring in their own radio series, The Andrews Sisters’ Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch.

Their success continued in 1945, with the million-selling “Rum and Coca-Cola” hitting number one in February and becoming the year’s biggest hit; they also had two more major hits with Crosby, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” and “Along the Navajo Trail.” After the end of the war they turned their attention largely away from movies and toward personal appearances abroad and on the emerging nightclub circuit, while continuing to work in radio. Their recording career cooled slightly, but they still scored major hits during the late 1940s, including the million-selling “South America, Take It Away” with Crosby, “Rumors Are Flying” with Les Paul, and the million-selling “Christmas Island” with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (all in 1946); “Near You” and “Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)” with Danny Kaye (both in 1947); “Toolie Oolie Doolie (The Yodel Polka)” and “Underneath the Arches” (both in 1948); and the million-selling number-one song “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” (1949). Their final number-one hit came with “I Wanna Be Loved” in June 1950.

The Andrews Sisters’ success as a recording act declined in the early 1950s, and when they left Decca at the end of 1953, Patty, who had been recording solo in recent years, formally left the group and launched her own career, signing with Capitol Records. Maxene and La Verne persevered as a duo for a time, then each tried performing solo. During this period Maxene worked with the composer Frank Loesser on songs he was writing for his musical The Most Happy Fella. Her recordings of several of these songs, her first as a soloist, eventually were released on the compact disc An Evening with Franks Loesser in 1992.

The Andrews Sisters reunited in 1956. They recorded for Capitol Records until 1961, when they moved to Dot Records, where they stayed until 1965, but their main income came from live appearances. LaVerne was stricken with cancer in 1966 (she died in 1967), and a substitute was hired to perform in her place. In 1968 the Andrews Sisters broke up again. Patty continued to perform, but Maxene retired from music and began teaching at the Lake Tahoe Paradise College of Fine Arts.

The Andrews Sisters enjoyed renewed popularity after Bette Midler revived “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” as a hit in 1973, and Maxene reunited with Patty for the Broadway musical Over Here!, which opened on 6 March 1974 and ran for 341 performances. The sisters permanently separated after the show closed, but Maxene stayed in music, launching a solo career. In 1985 she released her debut solo album, Maxene: An Andrews Sister. With Bill Gilbert she wrote a memoir, Over Here, Over There: The Andrews Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II, which was published in 1993. She returned to musical theater with the off-Broadway musical Swingtime Canteen, which opened on 14 March 1995, but while on vacation from the show she died of a heart attack. She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Maxene Andrews’s accomplishments are inevitably combined with those of her sisters. Employing a distinctive vocal harmony style that drew upon the exuberant, dance-oriented arrangements of swing music, and with a frisky sense of humor, the Andrews Sisters helped popularize a variety of musical genres within popular music, including many ethnic forms as well as boogie-woogie. As entertainers, they defined the exuberant 1940s style that maintained morale and helped win World War II. Though she never achieved widespread popularity apart from the group, Maxene, the most articulate and personable of the sisters, successfully forged a career as a singer, musical-comedy performer, and author long after the group’s heyday.

Over Here, Over There: The Andrews Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II (1993), written by Maxene Andrews with Bill Gilbert, is, as its title suggests, not merely a memoir of a particular period in the Andrews Sisters’ career but also an examination of other entertainers; nevertheless, it contains useful biographical information about Maxene Andrews. John Sforza, Swing it! The Andrews Sisters Story (2000), is a long overdue biography of the sisters that is thorough and sympathetic. The longest and most comprehensive article on them is William J. Ruhlmann, “The Andrews Sisters: Three Sides to Every Story,” Goldmine (20 Jan. 1995), which is based on interviews with Maxene and Patty, Lou Levy, and the Andrews Sisters’ musical director, Vic Schoen. A more succinct version is in the liner notes to the Andrew Sisters’ CD Their All-Time Greatest Hits (1994). There is an obituary in the New York Times (23 Oct. 1995).

William J. Ruhlmann

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Andrews, Maxene Angelyn

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