We remember Patty Andrews who at age 94 died yesterday in California. She was the last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters.
During a time when teenagers were doing the jitterbug and Uncle Sam was asking young men to enlist, The Andrews Sisters were America’s most popular female singing group. Patty, the youngest sister, was a loud and energetic blond who headed the group with her confident vocals. The middle sister was Maxene, a brunette, whose harmonic range gave the impression of four voices instead of three. Finally, completing the trio was the eldest, LaVerne, a strong willed red head with a witty sense of humor and an eye for fashion.
The Andrews Sisters versatile sound and range in genres explains their longevity in the music industry and popularity with people all over the world. They had major hits in nearly all types of music ranging from swing to country-western. This tremendous popularity did not stop in the music business. The trio could also be found performing in radio series, commercials, Hollywood movies and on Broadway.
Born in Minnesota, the three Andrews sisters developed a love for music at an early age. As children their first experience with music occurred when LaVerne had her two younger sisters sing a musical note around the family’s piano. This experience awakened the girls love for music and they began spending all of their free time singing and mimicking the successful singers of the time. Some of their first major influences included the Boswell Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme.
Their own singing style was helped by the way their three voices blended together. “There were just three girls in the family,” Patty once explained. “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.”
The girls got their start when Larry Rich hired them to go on tour with his 55 member troupe. In 1932 they stopped touring with Rich, but the girls continued to sing at fairs, vaudeville shows and club acts. While touring the girls worked hard on their craft and rehearsed daily, sometimes practicing in the back of their father’s Buick while driving to the next show.
After six years of living on the road the girls had their first major success with “Bei Mir” which sold 350,000 copies. The song held the Billboards No. 1 slot for five weeks. This achievement established The Andrews Sisters as successful recording artists and they became celebrities.
Their ascendancy coincided with the arrival of swing music in the late 1930s, and the Andrews Sisters’ style suited the new craze perfectly. Their aim was to reproduce the sound of three harmonising trumpets. “I was listening to Benny Goodman and to all the bands,” Patty once remarked. “I was into the feel, so that would go into my own musical ability. I was into swing. I loved the brass section.”
The sisters went on to record with many popular bands of the 1940s, including those of Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman and Goodman. They also recorded dozens of songs with Bing Crosby, including the million-seller Don’t Fence Me In, written by Cole Porter.
Such was the Andrews Sisters’ popularity that Universal signed them to a film contract, and between 1940 and 1944 they appeared in a dozen low-budget musical comedies. In 1947 they also featured in The Road to Rio with Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.
While many of the sisters’ songs were rollicking and upbeat, they could also turn to wistful ballads like I Can Dream, Can’t I? which, with Patty taking lead vocal, became an American No 1 hit in 1950. Their versatility meant that, in the course of their career, the Andrews Sisters recorded more than 400 songs in all and sold more than 80 million records, notching up including several gold discs.
But although they continued performing together until LaVerne’s death in 1967, they became riven by bickering and disagreements.
The discord dated from 1952, when Patty married Walter Weschler, the sisters’ pianist. On becoming their manager, he demanded more money for himself and for Patty, greatly upsetting the other two sisters. The schism with Patty became public, and lawsuits flew between the two camps.
“We had been together nearly all our lives,” Patty explained in 1971. “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.”
Nor did the recriminations end when there was a revival of interest in the sisters when Bette Midler released a cover version of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy in the early 1970s. Patty and Maxene appeared in a wartime comedy, Over Here!, in 1974, but while it ran on Broadway for more than a year, arguments with the producers led to the cancellation of a planned national tour, and the two sisters never performed together again.
Maxene toured as a solo act until her death in 1995. Patty also continued on her own, with appearances in Las Vegas and on television variety shows.
In 1947 Patty Andrews married Martin Melcher, an agent who represented the sisters as well as Doris Day, then on the threshold of her film career. When the couple divorced in 1949, Melcher became Day’s husband, manager and producer.
Patty Andrews’s second husband, Walter Weschler, died in 2010. A foster daughter survives her.