Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

ANDREWS SISTERS

Close harmony vocal trio from Minneapolis MN. LaVerne Sophia (b 6 July 1915; d 8 May 1967), Maxene Angelyn (b 3 January 1916; d 21 October 1995) and Patricia Marie 'Patty' Andrews (b 16 February 1920; d 30 January 2013), who sang lead. They went on the RKO theatre circuit c.1931 in a show with 55 people, learned a lot and decided to stick with it. Maxene sang high harmony, LaVerne was a contralto. Their first record was 'Why Talk About Love?'/'A Simple Melody' '37; then they struck it rich with 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schön' (in German).

The song was originally 'Bei Mir Bistu Shein' in Yiddish ('To Me You're Beautiful'), written by Solomon Secunda and Jacob Jacobs for their show I Would If I Could (in Yiddish it was Men Ken Lebn Nor Men Lost Nisht, or 'You Could Live, But They Won't Let You'). There is a story that a black duo called Johnny and George sang the song at a resort in the Catskills, then took it to the Apollo Theatre, where it was heard by songwriters Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, but nobody has been able to find out anything about Johnny and George, who may be apocryphal. Cahn and Chaplin bought the publishing rights to the song for $30, and Jacobs and Secunda probably thought nothing of it; like a lot of songwriters, they sold a lot of songs in order to eat. Cahn and Chaplin translated the words and it became one of the biggest hit songs of the era. The authors allegedly got their rights back in 1961. 

The Andrews Sisters took up where the Boswell Sisters left off and became the biggest girl group ever, said to have sold 60 million records. Big hits included 'Pistol Packin' Mama' '43 (with Bing Crosby), 'Rum and Coca Cola' '44 (considered sexy at the time), 'Don't Fence Me In' '44 and 'South America, Take It Away' '46, (both with Bing), 'Winter Wonderland' '47 (with Guy Lombardo). Many other hits with Decca artists Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Les Paul, Russ Morgan, Carmen Miranda, even Ernest Tubb; on their own they cashed in on the boogie-woogie fad with 'Rhumboogie', 'Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar', etc. They appeared in over 20 films as themselves, including Buck Privates and Hold That Ghost '41 with Abbott and Costello, Hollywood Canteen '44, Road To Rio '47 (with Crosby and Bob Hope). Their sound, along with that of Glenn Miller and Vera Lynn, causes wartime nostalgia for millions; like Miller, they had hits with chestnuts ('Beer Barrel Polka') and covers of hits by others: Fats Waller's 'Hold Tight', Orin Tucker's 'Oh Johnny'.

They quarrelled a lot, right up until the end, perhaps partly because fans would not allow them to exist separately; "We weren't glued togather," Patty said later. She recorded on her own '49-50 with Crosby, Gordon Jenkins, Victor Young; Maxene also went solo, but they continued singing together until LaVerne's death. Patty appeared in film The Phynx '69 and in a West Coast musical called Victory Canteen '72, set during WWII. Bette Midler's hit 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' '73 was a cover of theirs, and led to Patty and Maxene singing together for the last time on Broadway: Victory Canteen was rewritten and became Over Here '74-5, but they quarrelled over money with the producers and with each other, the show ran less than a year and a national tour was cancelled. The sisters were never reconciled.

Maxene became Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College in Nevada, teaching speech and drama, had a heart attack '82, then a bypass operation; and made a solo album '85 arranged by Arnold Goland. Midler wrote a sleeve note for Maxene on the Bainridge label, the album including a medley of the sisters' hits, and new songs, e.g. 'I Suppose', written by Nancy Goland. Maxene appeared in a touring production of Follies '95, a trouper till the end. Patty was married twice: her first husband was wannabe Hollywood bigshot Marty Melcher; this lasted only two years, and Melcher later married Doris Day and wrought havoc on her career. Patty's second marriage, to Wally Weschler, who had been the sisters' pianist and conductor, lasted nearly 50 years until his death.