Andrews Sisters Biography
The preeminent sister act of all time with well over 75 million records under their collective belt, the swinging band era could not be better represented than by Laverne, Maxene and Patty Andrews, or the fabulous "The Andrew Sisters", as they are better known. With their precise harmonies and herky-jerky dance moves, the girls' success never relied on witty banter; they let their hep-styled lyrics and energetic choreography do the talking. In turn, they delivered an upbeat war campaign that instilled hope, joy and allegiance through song and movement. They provided a musical security blanket to a war-torn country via radio, clubs, canteens, recordings and films that reemphasized the motto that America was strong and proud...and to keep on singing and swinging! Second only to perhaps Bob Hope in commitment and extensive USO touring, the girls' profound influence extends even today with such current pop idols Bette Midler, The Pointer Sisters, Barry Manilow, The Manhattan Transfer and even Christina Aguilera all having reinvented themselves in Andrews Sisters style at one time or another. Unfortunately, while the exact harmonies of the girls were thisclose, their interrelationships were much more discordant.
Hailing from Minnesota, eldest sister LaVerne was born on July 6, 1911, followed by Maxene on January 3, 1916, and finally Patty on February 16, 1918. Greek father Peter was a restaurateur in the Minneapolis area; their mother Ollie was a Norwegian homemaker. Childhood was pretty much lost to them. The trio's musical talents were quickly identified and they started performing on the road as youngsters, entering assorted kiddie contests and often winning for their efforts. The girls grew up on the vaudeville circuit, roughing it and toughing it with various bands and orchestras. Signed by orchestra leader Louis Belasco in 1937, the girls made their very first recordings with "There's a Lull in My Life," "Wake Up and Live" and "Turn Off the Moon." Subsequent radio work eventually led to the Decca Records label. The surprise of it all is that the girls did not read music! They learned by sense memory, pure instinct and a strong ear. Blonde Patty was the lively melodic leader, engulfed by the warm harmonies of auburn-haired contralto LaVerne and brunette soprano Maxene.
The old Yiddish song "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" was translated into English for them by Sammy Kahn and the girls walked off with their first huge hit in late 1937 (they were paid a flat fifty dollars and no royalties!). An overnight sensation upon release (it sold over a million copies), their contract was immediately revised by Decca and throughout the rest of the decade, recorded smash after smash -- "The Bear Barrel Polka," "Well, All Right" and "Hold Tight, Hold Tight" among the many.
The country was absolutely captivated. Universal responded in like by signing them to some of their nonsensical "B" musicals derived purely for escapism as the U.S. prepared itself for war. Their first appearance actually headlined the zany Ritz Brothers in a corny piffle called Argentine Nights (1940). The frizzy-bobbed trio were introduced as more or less a specialty act with the songs "Hit the Road," "Oh, He Loves Me" and "Rhumboogie" speaking volumes of their talent. Decca went on to record the tunes. This was followed by a 1-2-3 punch back at the recording studio with their renditions of "Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time" and "Mean to Me." Their second film was the above-average Abbott and Costello vehicle Buck Privates (1941), solidly showcased with the tunes "You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith," "Bounce Me Brother with a Solid Four" and their infectious signature hit "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B." The girls stepped in time for two more of A&C's lesser funfests, In the Navy (1941) and Hold That Ghost (1941).
Box-office sellouts on stage and in personal appearances across the nation, they were given their own radio show "Club Fifteen" (it lasted five years). Universal now decided it was the right time to spruce them up and give them a bit more personality by featuring them more or less front-and-center. In Give Out, Sisters (1942), they posed as rich society matron types out to better their careers while featuring them in song with "The Pennsylvania Polka" and others. In Private Buckaroo (1942), they put on a show by contributing, among others, the huge hit "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me". The plots may have been pancake-thin but they were sure-fire morale boosters and needed war-time tension relievers. No trained actresses by any margin, the girls emanated a down-home naturalness and appeal that attracted audiences coast-to-coast.
In later films they played everything from "lonely hearts" club operators in Always a Bridesmaid (1943), to elevator operators in How's About It (1943), to war-time factory workers in Swingtime Johnny (1944)_. With a never-say-die flair, they nevertheless finished up their Universal contract rather inauspiciously with Her Lucky Night (1945). By this time, WWII had also come to an end.
In the post-war years, they felt the obvious lull and were much less in demand in films. Still a popular act on stage and clubs, they had no trouble managing. In the meantime Disney utilized the girls' voices in their cartoon features Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948). All three girls experienced down times in their personal lives as well. There were bitter rumblings amid the group. Maxene and Patty went through painful divorces -- Maxene split with the group's manager Lou Levy; Patty lost agent/husband Martin Melcher to singer Doris Day. Moreover, the girls squabbled over their parents' estate shares and individual career desires. In the mid-1950s Patty, the group's lead, declared she was going solo. LaVerne and Maxene attempted to duo for a time until Maxene attempted suicide with pills in 1954, heartbroken over the nasty breakup of the group.
The girls did manage to appear together on TV and in recordings as time wore on and scars temporarily healed. LaVerne's serious illness in 1966, however, promptly ended the trio permanently. She died of cancer in May of the next year. Maxene retired shortly after and became dean of women at a Tahoe, Nevada college. Patty, ever the trouper, continued on TV, in clubs and in film cameos...wherever there was an audience.
In 1973, a somewhat plumper Patty and Maxene reunited for their first Broadway musical, the nostalgic "Over Here" (Tony-winning Janie Sell played the LaVerne counterpart) in which they performed their old standards following the show's curtain calls. But it did nothing to repair the Patty/Maxene off-stage relationship especially since LaVerne wasn't around to instigate peace-making tactics. It would be a two decade-long estrangement.
The two sisters did reunite briefly when they earned a star a decade earlier on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987. The group was later inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. Maxene continued soloing and did quite well for a time in such musical shows as "Pippin" and "Swing Time Canteen" (the latter as late as 1995). Plagued by heart problems (she suffered a massive heart attack in 1982), she died of a second coronary on October 21, 1995. Patty remains in seclusion in Southern California, broaching age 90. Fortunately, their legendary feuding can never overshadow their exhaustive musical contributions and 36 years of performing together.
The Andrews Sisters were a popular harmonizing singing group consisting of three sisters, Patty Andrews, Maxene Andrews and Laverne Andrews. The trio was awarded 19 gold records representing sales of almost 100 million copies. They got their start in the Depression-era early 1930s, and their first big hit, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen", was recorded in 1937. Their other best-known hits included "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (first introduced in the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello comedy Buck Privates (1941), "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)" and "Rum and Coca-Cola." With the entry of the United States into World War II, the sisters made frequent concert appearances at military bases, later traveling overseas to entertain the troops. Their career also included radio and television appearances.
Appeared in more films than any other singing groups in history.
Recorded 47 songs with Bing Crosby, 23 of which charted on Billboard, including the songs "Don't Fence Me In," "Take It Away" and "Jingle Bells".
Co-founded with Bette Davis and John Garfield California's Hollywood Canteen for US servicemen.
Dubbed "Sweehearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service" for their many USO appearances.
Their big hit "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" was a favorite song of the Nazis until it was discovered that the song's composers were Jewish.
The girls incorporated a number of ethnic music styles into their popular songs (Israel, Italy, Spain, France, Ireland, Russia, Sweden and Mexico, to name a few).
Sang a number of commercial jingles for such products as Wrigley's gum, Dole pineapple and Campbell's soups.
LaVerne and Maxene were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, with their parents.
Entertained extensively in America, Italy and Africa, visiting Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases, war zones, hospital and munitions factories. Perhaps second only to Bob Hope in their exhaustive efforts to entertain the troops.
The first female group to achieve a Gold Record award and the best-selling female vocal group ever, with a record that still remains unsurpassed (between 75-100 million). 46 of their hits reached the "Top 10" Billboard.
They initially jumpstarted their careers by imitating the early successful group The Boswell Sisters.
Youngest sibling Patty Andrews was only seven when the group was first formed and 12 when the trio won their first prize at a talent contest at the local Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis.
Recorded Miss "Lolita" Sailor for Decca in the UK and also "Mele Kalikimaka" in the USA.
They were awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.