The Andrews Sisters
The Andrews Sisters
To evoke the happy, patriotic feeling of the 1940s, simply mention the Andrews Sisters—or for that matter, just the names Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne. The “girl” trio of Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne Andrews sang for the troops in Europe during World War II, starred in films, collaborated on several tremendous hits with superstar Bing Crosby, and continued to sing for decades. During their career the trio recorded some 1,800 songs and sold over 90 million records, earning 19 gold disks along the way. Although they added numbers to their repertoire through the years, they are most remembered for their earliest hits, among them “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” When co-producers Kenneth Waissman and Maxine Fox wanted to recreate the 1940s in their 1974 musical review Over Here!, they hired the Andrews Sisters. When choreographer Paul Taylor wanted to dramatize his memories of the war years, he created choreography with the Andrews Sisters as his muses. Into the early 1990s Maxene Andrews was still
Members included LaVerne Andrews , born July 6, 1911, in Minneapolis, MN; died of cancer, 1967; married Louis A. Rodgers, 1948. Maxene Andrews , born January 3, 1916, in Minneapolis; married Lou Levy (the trio’ manager), 1941 (divorced, 1949). Patty Andrews , bom February 16, 1918, in Minneapolis. Joyce de Young , replaced LaVerne c. 1967-68.
Toured Midwest with Larry Rich, 1932-37; performed with Leon Belasco, New York City, 1937; signed with Decca Records, released “BeiMirBistduSchoen,” 1938; featured on radio shows Just Entertainment with Jack Fulton, 1938, and Honolulu Bound with Phil Baker, 1939; broke up, 1954; regrouped 1956; retired, 1968.
Film appearances include In the Navy and Buck Privates, 1941; Private Buckaroo, 1942; How’ About’s It? and Always a Bridesmaid, 1943; Follow the Boys, Hollywood Canteen, and Swing-Time Johnny, 1944; and Road to Rio, 1947.
Maxene Andrews became instructor of drama and speech and dean of women, 1968, and vice president in charge of planning and development, 1969, Tahoe Paradise College; appeared, with Patty Andrews, in stage production Over Here!, 1974; resumed singing career, c. 1974; appeared in dance production Company B, 1992. Author of memoir Over Here, Over There, Zebra Books, 1993.
Awards: 19 gold records; Medal of Distinguished Public Service, Department of Defense, 1987.
Addresses: DRG Records Inc., 130 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
singing the old songs with gusto, and fans still loved her.
The Andrews Sisters began performing as teens, in the early 1930s. They listened to the Boswell Sisters and tried on their style. “LaVerne had a wonderful musical memory,” Maxene told the New Yorker. “She figured things out. She would listen to a Boswell Sisters record and then teach me and Patty the parts.” Patty sang soprano and any solos, Maxene second soprano, and LaVerne alto. For several years they toured the Midwest on the vaudeville circuit. In 1937 they relocated to New York City. At first they had no luck, but when they were almost to the point of giving up, Lou Levy, who would become their manager—and Maxene’s husband—brought them to the attention of Jack Kapp, who signed the sisters to a recording contract with Decca Records.
Their first release, “Why Talk About Love,” sold poorly; their second attempt, 1938’ “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” however, became a million-seller.
“We only really became aware of how popular we were when we went overseas during the war and all the servicemen just mobbed us,” Maxene told the New Yorker. The sisters were very popular, indeed, singing regularly on radio in the late 1930s and 1940s. They also performed with other popular musicians of the day, including crooner Bing Crosby and premiere swing outfit the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Between 1940 and 1948 Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne made 16 films, often portraying themselves. Their popularity was nearly matched by their financial reward; in 1949 Levy reported in Billboard magazine that the trio planned over one million dollars in bookings—and this figure did not even account for record royalties.
In the early 1950s musical styles began to change, and although the Andrews Sisters tried to keep up, they encountered some rough times. In 1954 Patty left the act to try a solo career. The following year Maxene performed on her own as well. In 1956, however, the siblings regrouped, vowing to remain together. A Variety reviewer wrote of their act, “They place an emphasis on their avowed pledge that [their] war is over when they take time out to kid the woes that befall an act that splits.” For the next decade the Andrews Sisters continued to perform on the nightclub circuit. They mixed some new tunes into their repertoire but primarily relied on the old favorites. Variety opined in 1963 that their sound was attractively nostalgic: “In fact, the girls weave a nostalgic spell with a reprise of their disc licks.” While the trio’ vocal gifts were the main focus of their performances, they also enlivened their act with comedy routines and dance—from the Charleston to what Variety called a “bump and grind routine by Patty that’ good for plenty of laughs.”
The Andrews Sisters remained strong and popular well into the 1960s, but in 1966 the eldest, LaVerne, was forced to retire due to ill health. The following year she died of cancer. For a while, Patty and Maxene kept the trio alive, performing with Joyce de Young. But the act broke up for good in 1968 when Patty returned to solo work and Maxene traded in show business for an academic career. That year, the latter became an instructor of drama and speech and the dean of women at Tahoe Paradise College, a small liberal arts school. In 1969 she was made vice president in charge of planning and development. Maxene told Billboard, “It’ a whole new world. Working and living and studying with young people is the biggest kick I’ve ever had. It beats a million-seller.”
Interest in the trio was revived in 1973 when singer Bette Midler scored a hit with a cover version of the Andrews Sisters classic “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Then, stage producers Kenneth Waissman and Maxine Fox decided to mount a Broadway show depicting the World War II years and big-band era and asked the sisters to star in it. Over Here! opened at the Shubert Theatre in 1974 to rave reviews. Actress Janie Sell, playing a comic spy, completed the singing trio. After the run of the show Maxene decided to resume her singing career. Variety reviewed her new act, reporting that she pleased her older fans and then some: “Andrews’ style and catalog have relevancy to today. She recalls moments from the sisters’ vast catalog of hits, but there are also moments from contemporary writing. In all, she does more than try to live up to a memory. It’ another bag for her and apparently she has applied herself assiduously in meeting today’ conditions.” Maxene continued performing—and wowing audiences—into the next decade. In 1983 Variety again reviewed one of her performances, concluding, “Andrews looks in fine fettle, is obviously in fine voice and her 65-minute show is a lot of fun ’nostalgia’ without cloying schmaltz, thanks in great part to Andrews’ lively, infectious will.”
In the early 1990s the Andrews Sisters received fresh attention when the Paul Taylor Dance Company choreographed a new work to nine of the Andrews Sisters’ original recordings. The dance, Company B, contrasted the sisters’ exuberance and good cheer with depictions of some of the harsher realities of World War II. Maxene attended the Kennedy Center opening of Company B in June of 1991 and loved the portrayal of both the joy and tragedy of the era. “I was entranced with having it explained in dance,” she told the New York Times. “There was a dark side to the period, even though the whole country banded together and pitched in like a wonderful love-in. And [choreographer] Paul [Taylor] did it so clearly, so seamlessly. You knew the darkness was there, but no one thing stood out.” In 1992 Maxene even shared the bill with the dancers; at age 76, she was still singing. And in later years she became active in a host of charities, including the American Heart Foundation, the Save a Heart Foundation, and several AIDS organizations.
The music of the Andrews Sisters has captured the spirit of and cheered America for much of the twentieth century. Even when the trio finally disbanded, their music kept going strong. As Maxene put it in the New York Times, “Bette [Midler] brought the Andrews Sisters into the ’70s. Now I think Paul [Taylor] will bring us into the ’90s.” As a cherished gem of Americana, the music of Patty, LaVerne, and Maxene will undoubtedly be heard into the next century as well.
Boogie Woogie Bugle Girls, MCA, 1973.
16 Great Performances, MCA, 1975.
In Blossom, Columbia Special Products, 1978.
Rarities, MCA, 1984.
50th Anniversary Collection, MCA, Volume 1, 1987, Volume 2, 1990.
Greatest Hits, CURB/Cema, 1990.
At Their Best, Pair, 1991.
The Andrews Sisters: Capitol Collectors Series, Capitol, 1991.
The Andrews Sisters, Pearl, 1991.
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(Contributors) Capitol Sings Cole Porter, Capitol, 1992.
The Best of the Andrews Sisters (two volumes), MCA.
(With Bing Crosby and Bob Hope) Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, ProArte.
Andrews Sisters, Bain, 1985.
(With Dick Hyman, Mundell Lowe, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Chuck Mangione) Maxene: An Andrews Sister, DRG, 1992.
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Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 1974.
New York Times, November 1, 1991; July 30, 1992.
New Yorker, November 11, 1991.
Newsweek, November 11, 1991.
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Village Voice, June 25, 1980.
The Andrews Sisters
The Andrews Sisters
Born July 6, 1911
Died May 8, 1967
Born January 3, 1916
Died October 21, 1995
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Patricia (Patty) Andrews
Born February 16, 1918
During World War II (1939–45), a trio of sisters known as the Andrews Sisters topped the music charts with hits such as their Oscar-nominated "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy." Their names were LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty Andrews, and they were the best-selling female vocal group in the twentieth century.
Touring America for fifty weeks a year, the Andrews Sisters exuded an enthusiasm and positive national spirit that drew Americans together during a dark time. For those serving abroad, the music brought a sense of the familiar and provided a reminder of what they had left behind. The Andrews Sisters sang a wide variety of musical styles that were both patriotic and upbeat while entertaining with the United Services Organization (USO). The trio performed at military posts and hospital wards, for Armed Forces Radio, and at war bond rallies. Although they placed 113 songs on the Billboard "Top 40" charts in fifteen years, their singing act will always be associated with World War II.
The girls next door
LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty Andrews were born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Olga Sollie and Peter Andrews. Peter had changed his surname from Andreos to Andrews upon his arrival in America from his homeland in Greece. LaVerne Sophie was born to the couple on July 6, 1911, followed by Maxene Angelyn on January 3, 1916, and Patricia (Patty) Marie on February 16, 1918. They were all exceptional singers and began mimicking radio tunes at an early age. Patty provided a strong lead, Maxene sang soprano (high singing voice), and LaVerne took the alto (low singing voice) part for a smooth blending of their voices in perfect, three-part harmony. The sisters began singing locally and soon received their first professional contract to sing in vaudeville and radio. When the trio started to travel, their parents chaperoned them across America in the family car.
The Andrews Sisters signed a contract with Decca Records in 1937 and had their first number one hit. Its title was "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," meaning "By Me You Are Beautiful." It was a novelty tune showcasing their ability to vocalize the popular Big Band sound of the era. It went to the number one spot on the radio program Your Hit Parade. More hit songs followed. The trio went on to reintroduce a very old style of music from the Deep South, called boogie-woogie.
The Big Band era was now in full swing and the sisters found themselves working nonstop. They had loud and fast harmony, synchronized choreography, and showmanship so perfected that it seemed effortless. However, in reality, it came from four hours of rehearsing each day. The sisters worked with nearly every famous bandleader of the day and covered all styles of music that characterized the 1940s, from be-bop to polkas and swing to waltzes. The Andrews Sisters made their first film appearance in Argentine Nights in 1940. They would appear in over a dozen more films throughout the decade. Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne enjoyed a long and successful collaboration with famous singer Bing Crosby (1903–1977) in both film and song.
In 1941 war clouds were growing darker as Adolf Hitler's (1889–1945) German army conquered most of Europe. Americans remained deeply divided about their role in the European war; most preferring that the United States remain out of it. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered World War II and the nation quickly transformed from the lean years of the Great Depression (the severe economic crisis that lasted from 1929–41) to full-scale military production. On the home front there came rationing of precious goods, air raid drills, blackouts in cities, and war bond drives.
The Big Bands
Like many Hollywood films of the early 1940s, music provided an escape for the American public. Throughout the nation youth crowded dance halls and nightclubs to do dances called the jitterbug and the lindy. Bandleaders were in abundance and became music industry superstars. The list of the most famous always included Jimmy Dorsey (1904–1957). He formed the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra in 1935 and kept up its high standards. By the end of World War II (1939–45), it had surpassed most other bands in both popularity and in musicianship.
The Big Bands provided an important morale boost to Americans across the home front and especially to those in uniform. The war gave meteoric fame to the bands but many soon found their members swallowed up by enlistment or by the draft. The enlistment of some top stars began as early as the summer of 1942, and many bands floundered at home. New bands began forming in the army by such legendary greats as Glenn Miller (1904–1944).
The manpower shortage being felt across America touched all businesses, and the entertainment business was not immune. Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra felt the shortages in other areas as well. They needed government "priority" papers saying their trip was essential for the war effort in order to ride a train. Gasoline was rationed, even if they happened to have an automobile, and flying was not an option. Getting an orchestra to its next performance proved a challenge. Some performers were losing work because they were not allowed to travel. By order of their local draft boards, they had to stay in their hometowns to be on hand for an immediate call to military duty. Despite the hardships, Dorsey continued his work of entertaining both troops and civilians while keeping morale high for his own musicians.
Everyone searched for ways they could contribute to the war effort. Even before Pearl Harbor, the entertainment industry had joined with the United Service Organization (USO; a nonprofit, private organization, totally funded by gifts from citizens and businesses, that worked closely with the military to look after the welfare, spirits, and recreational needs of America's military personnel) in the effort to sustain the morale of America's service men and women as the military rapidly grew in 1940 and 1941. The USO, placed under the general direction of the army and the navy, was financed by the American people through voluntary contributions. In May 1941 a comedian named Bob Hope (1903–2003) took the cast of his weekly radio show to March Field outside Los Angeles, California, to entertain those Americans preparing for war; and so began a longstanding tradition.
The Andrews Sisters found that even though they had been busy enough with three daily shows in the prewar times, they were now being booked for twice that number. Looking for a way to contribute to the war effort, they began visiting camps and hospital wards in every city where they played. They also could be found singing at the Hollywood Canteen, one of the entertainment clubs established for soldiers on leave. Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne performed for the military at every opportunity both at home and abroad, volunteering their services in order to boost morale among those in uniform.
The military encouraged the performers' contribution as it helped ward off the boredom and loneliness that were major problems in the camps and wards. Dancers, musicians, sketch artists, jugglers, comedians, actors, and athletes all wanted involvement in the national defense effort through the USO. Abroad, the USO performers could be found touring the temporary tent cities near the front lines of battle, entertaining soldiers as they waited to press the battle forward. They would then follow the units as soon as an area had been secured.
The USO shows were expanding as rapidly as the Allies' victories. At one point the curtain was going up at USO shows throughout the world over seven hundred times every day. The USO Camp Shows operation broke down into several circuits, bringing specialized entertainment to the troops. The Victory Circuit produced full-size plays and full-dress musicals. The Blue Circuit was composed of small, mobile units of
variety acts. The Hospital Circuit consisted of various kinds of performers who toured eighty general hospitals in the United States. The Foxhole Circuit was made up of a variety of entertainers such as Big Bands and Hollywood stars, many with headline acts and famous names.
On the home front
After appearances at the Paramount Theater in New York City, the Andrews Sisters would go over to Times Square between shows and do free shows on a big stage set up in the center of the square. People formed long lines to buy war bonds used to finance the war, and the entertainers would provide music while they waited. The sisters would sing for two or three hours and then hurry back in time for their theater show. They also volunteered for the "Radio Bond Days" shows being produced by the radio networks at the time. The shows promoted everything from conservation of scrap metals to helpful hints on how to use toothpaste sparingly. Top stars also urged listeners to phone in their pledges for the war bond drive.
The Andrews Sisters continued singing for the troops over the radio through Armed Forces Radio Shows (AFRS), teaming up with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope for the first two shows. Special extra-long playing recordings were put together exclusively for the AFRS so that those abroad were able to listen to music from home with a minimum of interruptions. The soldiers took a special liking to the Andrews Sisters' tune "Rum and Coca-Cola," which came out in 1944. The sisters were told that their hit "Shoo-Shoo, Baby" (1943) was one of the tunes whose title wound up on the noses of American warplanes as they flew into battle. When Europe was finally liberated by the Allies, the Andrews Sisters were given the opportunity to entertain the troops with the USO in North Africa, Sicily, and Europe. In John Sforza's book Swing It!, Patty Andrews is quoted as saying, "We were such a part of everybody's life in the Second World War. We represented something overseas and at home—a sort of security."
A changing world
Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne recorded songs intended to give the American people a reason to smile during the war. Even those on the home front who were spared the agony of seeing loved ones listed in the local newspaper under the headings of "killed, wounded, or missing in action," were still suffering from the distress that accompanied long years of separation. The Andrews Sisters' tunes were selected to provide the public with an escape from the worries of war, and their popularity soared throughout the 1940s.
The end of the war in 1945 also marked the beginning of the end of the Big Band era. Many servicemen returning home were starting college under the new GI Bill of Rights. Young couples were beginning families. Budgets did not include dance clubs and entertainment. The Andrews Sisters continued performing for several years before deciding to retire as a group in the 1950s. They reunited for a time but went their separate ways after LaVerne's death in 1967. Their talent, versatility, and worldwide exposure would assure the Andrews Sisters a place in music history, as they had revolutionized and forever changed popular music.
For More Information
Andrews, Maxene, and Bill Gilbert. Over Here, Over There: The Andrews Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1993.
Sforza, John. Swing It!: The Andrews Sisters Story. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.
Simon, George T. The Big Bands. New York: Macmillan, 1967.
Terkel, Studs. The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
"The Andrews Sisters." Bigbands. http://www.bigbands.net/andrewsbio.htm (accessed on July 18, 2004).