Monday, February 4, 2013

In Memoriam: Patty Andrews 1918-2013

Singer. Sang lead in 1940s girl group, The Andrews Sisters. "  "Bei Mir Bistu Shein". "Shortenin' Bread" "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)" "Pistol Packin' Mama" (with Bing Crosby.) "Shoo Shoo Baby". "Straighten Up and Fly Right." "Don't Fence Me In (with Bing Crosby.) "Rum and Coca-Cola". "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (with--you guessed it--Bing Crosby.) "Near You." "I Can Dream, Can't I?" "Daddy"

 "There were just three girls in the family. LaVerne had a very low voice. Maxene's was kind of high, and I was between. It was like God had given us voices to fit our parts."

--1971 interview.

“When our fans used to see one of us, they’d always ask, ‘Where are your sisters?’ Every time we got an award, it was just one award for the three of us...We’re not glued together.” 

--1974 New York Times interview. By this time, Patty was a solo act. Unfortunately for her, she wasn't remotely as popular a single as she had been when part of a trio.

And so...

That's Maxine on the left, LaVerne on the right. Sorry, Patty, but whose individuality hasn't taken a beating every now and then?

 Especially when playing backup.

Now, let's look at the product these three ladies were trying to sell:

"I was listening to Benny Goodman and to all the bands...I was into the feel, so that would go into my own musical ability. I was into swing. I loved the brass section."

--Patty Andrews

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"

"Bei Mir Bistu Shein"

"Shoo Shoo Baby"

"Straighten Up and Fly Right"

"Rum and Coca-Cola" Get a designated driver before listening to this song.

Two with Bing:

"Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive"


"Pistol-Packing Mama" Not endorsed by the NRA.

Back to just the girls:


"Chattanooga Choo Choo"


"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" With Shemp Howard!

The Andrews Sisters were once considered hip. Or, rather, hep. This is, after all, the Swing Era we're talking about.

Swing was a form of music that originated in the African-American community in the early part of the 20th century. White artists took the music into the mainstream, where it was at first met with suspicion and disapproval by adults but with much enthusiasm by their teenaged sons and daughters. New clothing styles, dance moves, and slang formed around this music and it soon became part of a larger youth culture. This new culture so terrified some people--especially with a war going on--that it led to civil unrest.



Sound familiar?

For all the noise it caused, the Swing Era quietly ended not too long after the much noisier World War II came to a close. The Andrews Sisters, meanwhile, had their own internal wars going on:

"We had been together nearly all our lives...Then in one year our dream world ended. Our mother died and then our father. All three of us were upset, and we were at each other's throats all the time."

--Patty Andrews, in 1971.

The girls split up in 1951, sued each other, and Maxine attempted suicide. Not much accentuating the positive there.

Eventually the sisters resolved their differences, and reunited in 1956, deciding to try their hand at rock and roll. That's not as absurd as it sounds. Go listen to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" again. You got rhythm and you got blues. Does it really sound all that different from what Little Richard or Chuck Berry were doing a decade and a half later? I haven't listened  to any of the Andrews rock and roll songs--indeed, I can't find them online--but after hearing their '40s stuff, I can't see why they they couldn't just fit right in.

But they didn't.

For reasons social scientists still haven't quite figured out, rock and roll proved to be a greater shock to the system than even  ragtime, jazz, or swing--all controversial in their day--had been. Adults who had grown up listening to at least one of those blues-based, sexualized genres forgot all that--or maybe remembered it all too well--when it came to their own children. Elvis was censored, then drafted, and DJ Alan Freed--who coined the phrase "rock and roll"--was hounded by the law and the people who make the laws, Congress. One way kids rebelled against this assault on their favorite music (which lyrically wasn't even about rebellion at the time) was to build a wall between rock and all that had come before it. These teenagers came to see any music made prior to 1955, as old-fashioned, for squares. Including the Andrews Sisters. Especially the Andrews Sisters.

Nevertheless, the sisters soldiered on, even if they no longer performed in WAC uniforms. Here they are, their last appearance together, on The Dean Martin Show in the mid-'60s. Well into middle-age by this time, their voices have dropped a few registers, and they no longer sing at that jitterbugging quick pace (though they may have slowed down to accommodate the more laid-back Dino.) Still, they seem not to be taking themselves too seriously, always part of their appeal.

LaVerne died of cancer in 1967.

Patty and Maxine performed as a duo for a couple of years, then split up. They briefly reunited in the mid-1970s, then split up again, and sued each other again. They were estranged for the rest of their lives.

The sisters did manage to put aside their differences for one final public appearance. In 1987, the girl act received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

Patty on the left, Maxine on the right.

Maxine died in 1995

No one stays young forever. No one lives forever. But if it's any consolation, one, or three, may be rediscovered by the young:


You don't hang up on the Andrews Sisters.





  1. the swing era is, i think, my most favorite. i can't listen to it without that i MOVE! who can sit still when it's playing? are you dead?
    that rock and roll emanates from it is apparent. while the andrews sisters aren't my favorites, boogie woogie bugle boy is a classic.
    those sister groups you found almost have it. great voices, need more, uh, swing!

    1. rraine, with the exception of that final, lip-synced video, those young performers of today--who may or not be professionals--are singing a cappella. No big bands behind them like the Andrews Sisters had. That may be why they don't really let loose.

      Still, it's kind of ironic that these girls who I imagine came of age in the anything-goes 21st century come across as much more restrained than Patty, Maxine, and LaVerne did 70 years ago.

  2. Ah, the sounds of my childhood....and adulthood. Sang many a performance of "Boogie Woogie" Such great harmonies.

    Lots of information here I wasn't aware of.

    It's interesting that Michael Jackson viewed old black and white films to get some of his musical ideas and famous dance moves. To be disdainful of a certain era's music is such a mistake.

    1. Kass, that disdain works both ways. How often do middle-agers look down at the music, and everything else, that young people like? Had the parents of the 1950s not reacted so angrily toward their children's music, there wouldn't have been an angry counter-reaction, and we might today see swing and rock as part of a larger musical continuum.