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Swing It!

Swing It!: The Andrews Sisters Story

John Sforza
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Swing It!
    Book Description:

    In the years before and after World War II, there were no bigger voices than those of the Andrews Sisters. Maxene, LaVerne, and Patty charted more top ten Billboard hits than Elvis or the Beatles and went on to become the top-selling female vocal group of all time, selling approximately 100 million records. They recorded such instant hits as "Beer Barrel Polka," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "Don't Fence Me In," and "I Can Dream, Can't I?" They dominated the music scene for fifteen years with some 600 recordings, appearances in seventeen films, cabaret performances, and countless radio and television appearances.

    Swing It!is the first published biography of this incredibly popular trio. The book includes many rarely published photos and features extensive career data, including a detailed discography, filmography, and listing of their radio and television appearances between 1938 and 1967. The Andrews Sisters had their big break with the 1937 release of the Yiddish tune "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (Means that You're Grand)," which sold 350,000 copies in one month and established the trio as successful recording artists. The sisters are now probably best remembered for their work entertaining troops in World War II. They traveled across the U.S. and to Italy and Africa, and their recording of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" for the film Buck Privates became synonymous with the war effort. Part of the reason for the success of the Andrews Sisters was their ability to perform so many different types of music. They repeatedly achieved major hits with melodies derived from many different countries, becoming the first and most prominent artists of their time to bring ethnic-influenced music to the forefront of America's hit parade. The Andrews Sisters separated for two years in the 1950s as the strain of constantly living, working, and playing together for over four decades took its toll. They reunited in 1956 and continued to perform together until LaVerne's death from cancer in 1967.

    The Andrews Sisters remain the most successful and enduring female vocal group in the history of show business. Theirs are the voices that defined an era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4897-7
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    The 1940s were extremely energetic years. The mere mention of this decade conjures up such nostalgic images as zoot suits, bobby-soxers, jukeboxes, and big bands; Uncle Sam posters, draft notices, ration stamps, and victory gardens; Nash motor cars, drugstore egg creams, and dish night at the local movie house.

    It was a decade that most of today’s younger generation could not relate to or comprehend, through no fault of their own. Times were different—times were simpler. Imagine an era before the Baby Boom, the Cold War, Woodstock, and the sexual revolution. Saturday nights were for dating, Sundays were for...

  5. 1 Weʹll Hit the Big Time
    (pp. 16-22)

    The year was 1931. America was suffering from a grave economic depression. The stock market crash of 1929 was all too recent; bread lines still formed at soup kitchens throughout most of the nation. Times ahead looked bleak and uncompromising. Despite all this, three young girls in Minneapolis were hoping and yearning to break into show business.

    In April of 1931, while on Easter vacation from school, Maxene, Patty, and LaVerne Andrews were participating in a talent contest at the local Orpheum Theater. The show was sponsored by the Clausen School of Dance, where LaVerne’s piano accompaniment services earned free...

  6. 2 ʺThatʹs US! Thatʹs Us!ʺ
    (pp. 23-49)

    Home again in Minnesota, Peter was sure that his daughters would be eager to return to a normal lifestyle. His intention was to enroll all three girls in business school. Peter was determined to see them settle into secretarial positions, feeling that such occupations were more respectable than entertaining. He thought they would welcome the opportunity, especially after more than six years of living on the road.

    To the contrary, the girls had fallen in love with show business, not minding the long hours of rehearsals, late night shows, missed meals, and cheap hotels. They pleaded with their father to...

  7. 3 They Made the Company Jump
    (pp. 50-64)

    Emerging from the late 1930s as the top trio in the nation, the Andrews Sisters were wowing the record-buying public with song arrangements that jumped to their loud, robust harmonies. Rather than crooning, the girls used their strong vocal cords to full advantage, making their blend completely their own and much more cohesive than any other vocal group.

    The girls themselves were a bit astonished by their growing popularity, as Maxene recalled:

    When we opened at the Casa Manana in Culver City, California on June 7, the audience included one of the biggest name orchestra leaders of the previous twenty...

  8. 4 Three of a Kind
    (pp. 65-70)

    With the arrival of 1942, the Andrews Sisters found themselves well-established recording artists, successful radio and movie personalities, and the most profitable stage attraction throughout the entire nation. Perhaps the most comical acknowledgment of the trio’s popularity is in the Samuel Goldwyn filmThey Got Me Covered. The picture’s star, Bob Hope, unknowingly drugged by villainess Lenore Aubert, begins to see the actress’s image in triplicate. Impudently, he exclaims, “Wait a minute. I know who you are. You’re the Andrews Sisters!”

    The sisters were now Universal’s biggest singing attraction after operatic star Deanna Durbin, and the studio cast the trio...

  9. 5 Voices of an Era
    (pp. 71-81)

    The mid 1940s proved to be the Andrews Sisters’ most popular and lucrative years. The girls were earning twenty thousand dollars a week from concert appearances, not to mention payments and royalties from recordings, radio appearances, and film commitments, and they spent their hard-earned thousands with enthusiasm.

    The trio had a costly one-acre, well-landscaped suburban estate built for their parents and themselves in the Brentwood section of Hollywood. Maxene and Lou Levy opted for their own home in the Hollywood hills, not far from the Brentwood estate. The Levys also purchased a ranch on Cold Water Canyon in the San...

  10. 6 Weʹve Got a Job to Do
    (pp. 82-93)

    Maxene once claimed that she and her sisters really did no more than any other entertainers of the day as far as personal and professional service toward the effort for victory during World War II. This was a bit of an understatement. The girls got involved as early as 1940, when they appeared as part of an all-star lineup for a Red Cross radio benefit. Maxene recalled,

    LaVerne, Patty, and I sang as part of a two-hour radio show, which was broadcast simultaneously over every Los Angeles station, plus NBC and CBS, from nine to eleven on a Saturday night....

  11. 7 Riding High
    (pp. 94-111)

    Her Lucky Nightwas the trio’s last feature for Universal Pictures. Shortly before the girls were to begin filming, they made a visit to family and friends in Minneapolis. During their four-day retreat, LaVerne organized a baseball game with some cousins and friends while the trio was staying with uncles Pete and Ed at Lake Minnetonka. She soon regretted her enthusiasm when one of her pitches came sailing back and smacked her in the eye. The trio stalled the studio for a few weeks as LaVerne nursed her shiner.

    The girls were eager to fulfill their contract with Universal Pictures....

  12. Photos
    (pp. None)
  13. 8 Success Abroad
    (pp. 112-121)

    A nightly radio show calledClub15 premiered on the CBS network in mid-1947. The show was hosted by bandleader Bob Crosby (Bing’s brother) and sponsored by Campbell Soup Company. Featured with Crosby were Margaret Whiting and the Pied Pipers, while baritone Del Sharbutt handled the announcing chores. After the show’s first season, Margaret Whiting and the Pied Pipers were replaced by Jo Stafford and the Modernaires. Songstress Evelyn Knight then replaced Stafford. Dick Haymes replaced Crosby two years later and remained host until Crosby’s return the following year. The Andrews Sisters joined the cast three months after the show’s...

  14. 9 A Love Song Is Born
    (pp. 122-135)

    The Andrews Sisters were planning to record a lovely ballad entitled “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” in the summer of 1949. The song had been written in 1937 by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal. Dave Kapp suggested the tune to the trio; it had always been his favorite song, and he was eager to be involved in their arrangement of it. The girls asked Gordon Jenkins to back them on the recording. Jenkins, with his lush string section and accompanying chorus, was a master at evoking a distinctively melancholy quality in his music that no other arranger could capture. He...

  15. 10 Disharmony
    (pp. 136-145)

    Vic Schoen, the man who had been identified with the Andrews Sisters for over a decade, and whose orchestra had accompanied the girls in over ninety percent of their recordings, parted from the trio in late 1951. He went on to work with several other artists, producing major hits, including Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod” and the Weavers’ “On Top of Old Smoky.” But never again was the maestro to become so well associated with another singer as he and his band had become with the sisters. Schoen eventually married and divorced Kay Starr, then wed Marion Hutton of Glenn...

  16. 11 The Last Mile Home
    (pp. 146-155)

    After a year of recording solo, Patty was experiencing only moderate success on Capitol Records. Although her singles proved that she did not need her sisters to successfully carry a tune, something vital seemed to be missing, at least in the minds of Andrews Sisters fans. Patty’s ballads displayed impressive vocal workmanship, and some of her novelty tunes perfectly suited her style of musical funmaking, but the public—especially the record-buying public—was much more partial to the trio. Fans never expected the sisters to disband, for they had practically become an American institution. The public was eager for a...

  17. 12 The Love We Used to Know
    (pp. 156-174)

    While Patty and Maxene were appearing at Lake Tahoe at the time of their sister’s death, Paradise College offered Maxene the position of Dean of Women. Such a request came out of the blue, as Maxene’s formal education came to an end when she was just fifteen years old. She once said that, at the time of the offer, she had never even seen the inside of a college, and could not imagine working in one. She had been considering a non-show business outlet, however, since she did not find it very rewarding to sing without both of her sisters....

  18. Photos
    (pp. None)
  19. Appendix A: Top-Thirty Hits (Compiled from Billboard)
    (pp. 175-180)
  20. Appendix B: Top-Ten Hits (Compiled from Variety)
    (pp. 181-182)
  21. Appendix C: Most Played Jukebox Records of World War II (Compiled from Variety)
    (pp. 183-184)
  22. Appendix D: Gold Records
    (pp. 185-188)
  23. Appendix E: On the Air
    (pp. 189-194)
  24. Appendix F: The Small Screen
    (pp. 195-196)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 197-206)
  26. Filmography
    (pp. 207-216)
  27. Discography
    (pp. 217-266)
  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-268)
  29. Index
    (pp. 269-278)
  30. Song Index
    (pp. 279-289)