Minnesotans LaVerne, Maxene and Patty Andrews (originally Andreos) became a star act rather early. The first big hit — in 1937 — was a bit odd for the girls, whose father was Greek and mother Norwegian. The song was “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,” a Yiddish fiddle tune translated by Sammy Kahn.
The Andrews Sisters specialized in the uptempo “jump” jazz harmonic singing. The act became increasingly popular. The girls did their best work — professionally and personally — during War War II. Wikipedia paints a picture of a trio that did the right thing, again and again:
During World War II they entertained the Allied forces extensively in America, Africa and Italy, visiting Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases, war zones, hospitals, and munitions factories. They encouraged U.S. citizens to purchase war bonds with their rendition of Irving Berlin’s song Any Bonds Today? They also helped actress Bette Davis and actor John Garfield found California’s famous Hollywood Canteen, a welcome retreat for servicemen where the trio often performed, volunteering their personal time to sing and dance for the soldiers, sailors and Marines (they did the same at New York City’s Stage Door Canteen during the war). While touring, they often treated three random servicemen to dinner when they were dining out. They recorded a series of Victory Discs (V-Discs) for distribution to Allied fighting forces only, again volunteering their time for studio sessions for the Music Branch, Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces, and they were dubbed the “Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service” for their many appearances on shows such as “Command Performance”, “Mail Call”, and “G.I. Journal.”
The success continued after the war. Things eventually began to cool down, however, and the good spirits gave way to internal jealousies and disagreements.
The Andrews Sisters: Fights, Lawsuits — and 95 Million Records
The profiles go into great detail about the various problems, fights and lawsuits. The catalyst was the death of their parents, who died within about a year of each other in the late 1940s. There were some successes afterward, but the profiles suggest that the general trendline was downward. LaVerne died first, at age 55 in 1967. Maxene lived until 1995, when she was 79. Patty was 94 when she died last year.
Never underestimate the influence of The Andrews Sisters. The group sold about 95 million records as of the mid-1970s and played a special role in the vitally important entertainment industry during the war. The Wikipedia profile has a succinct look at their influence and calls them the most popular female vocal group before The Supremes. Here is a funny clip of the two groups singing each other’s songs.
Above is “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which they recorded in 1941. It was a big hit for Bette Midler 32 years later. Below — with a welcome appearance by Shemp Howard — is “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else But Me).”