1940s: The Andrews Sisters — America’s favorite singing sisters
The Andrews Sisters were one of the most successful female recording groups in pop music history. To many members of the World War II generation they were the Beatles of their day.
America loved the Andrews Sisters. The trio topped the box offices and received enthusiastic reviews wherever they went. In early 1940s they became the most profitable entertainers in the U.S., earning $20,000 a week. The Voice of America said that the Andrews Sisters were “the most listened women in history.”
Their secret? As one music reviewer of that time put it, “The Andrews Sisters have perfectly blended voices for the 1941 pop songs, and are mistresses of rhythm without equal among the gal trios.”
In July 1941, Pittsburghers were very excited about the female trio performing at Stanley Theatre (now the Benedum Center), according to a book titled “The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record.” “At Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre with Gene Krupa, they scored the second largest box in theatre’s history. The manager announced the theatre was ‘rolling again’ after the sisters’ engagement and was so grateful that he gave then an additional $500 and booked them for a return at $500 more than their usual fee.” In 1941 alone, the famous sisters visited Pittsburgh three times.
For 14 years, starting in 1938, the Andrews Sisters topped the music charts. Patti, Maxene and LaVerne Andrews in the course of their singing career had 19 gold records, appeared in 18 Hollywood films, were regulars on radio and had record sales of nearly $100 million. They worked together with the biggest names of their time: Bing Crosby, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Joe Venuti, Woody Herman, Al Jolson, Nat “King” Cole, Carmen Miranda and Groucho Marx.
Their voices boosted morale in the Army during World War II as the sisters volunteered their time singing and dancing for servicemen overseas. Three generations of GIs listened to the Andrews Sisters as every jukebox in Army base had records of the trio: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me),” and many others.
The musical style of the trio was diverse and innovative: swing, boogie-woogie, romantic ballads, jazz, western, blues, folk songs, polka and others. (Pennsylvanians may especially appreciate the Andrews Sisters’ rendition of the “Pennsylvania Polka”).
The Andrews Sisters sang together since childhood. They gained popularity in 1938 and performed until the breakup of the group in 1951. LaVerne, the oldest sister, died of cancer in 1967. Maxene and Patty embarked on solo careers. They reunited in 1974 for a Broadway show “Over Here!” The middle sister Maxene stayed active in the entertainment industry until her death in 1995. The last of Andrews Sisters, Patty, who was the youngest of the three and sang lead, died last week. She was 94.
It’s hard to fully grasp the popularity of the Andrews Sisters unless one lived during that era. In his book “The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record” Arlo Nimmo writes: “They began as a singing act but soon became an entertainment and many reviewers noted that if you’d only heard the Andrews Sisters on record, you had no understanding of them as entertainers. They sang, joked, and mugged their way into the hearts of America. The Andrews Sisters were one of America’s images of family, an image that was especially cherished during the dark days of World War II.”