Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Close harmony vocal trio from Minneapolis MN. LaVerne Sophia (b 6 July 1915; d 8 May 1967), Maxene Angelyn (b 3 January 1916; d 21 October 1995) and Patricia Marie 'Patty' Andrews (b 16 February 1920; d 30 January 2013), who sang lead. They went on the RKO theatre circuit c.1931 in a show with 55 people, learned a lot and decided to stick with it. Maxene sang high harmony, LaVerne was a contralto. Their first record was 'Why Talk About Love?'/'A Simple Melody' '37; then they struck it rich with 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schön' (in German).

The song was originally 'Bei Mir Bistu Shein' in Yiddish ('To Me You're Beautiful'), written by Solomon Secunda and Jacob Jacobs for their 1933 show I Would If I Could (in Yiddish it was Men Ken Lebn Nor Men Lost Nisht, or 'You Could Live, But They Won't Let You'). The story was that songwriters Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin heard the black vocal duo Johnny and George singing it, perhaps at the Apollo Theatre; they bought the publishing rights for $30, and Jacobs and Secunda probably thought little of it. Like a lot of songwriters, they sold rights to songs in order to eat. Cahn and Chaplin translated the words and it became one of the biggest hits of the era; the authors allegedly got their rights back in 1961.

[Nothing was known about Johnny and George and it was thought they might have been a fiction until researcher Marv Goldberg started digging up clippings (his website is here). The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in January 1938, just as the Andrews Sisters' record was sweeping the nation, that 'The Twentieth Century presents Johnny and George, the dusky sensation of Broadway, who brought "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" in swingtime from the Catskill Mountains to the 20th Century via the Yacht Club.' The Twentieth Century Club was built in 1911 in Lansdowne PA; today it is a wedding venue, and the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Johnny (Maclin) and George (MacLean) were still pleasing audiences as late as 1952.]

The Andrews Sisters took up where the Boswell Sisters left off and became the biggest girl group ever, said to have sold 60 million records. Big hits included 'Pistol Packin' Mama' '43 (with Bing Crosby), 'Rum and Coca Cola' '44 (considered sexy at the time), 'Don't Fence Me In' '44 and 'South America, Take It Away' '46, (both with Bing), 'Winter Wonderland' '47 (with Guy Lombardo). There were many other hits with Decca artists Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Les Paul, Russ Morgan, Carmen Miranda, even Ernest Tubb; on their own they cashed in on the boogie-woogie fad with 'Rhumboogie', 'Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar', etc. They appeared in over 20 films as themselves, including Buck Privates and Hold That Ghost '41 with Abbott and Costello, Hollywood Canteen '44, Road To Rio '47 (with Crosby and Bob Hope). Their sound, along with that of Glenn Miller and Vera Lynn, causes wartime nostalgia for millions; like Miller, they had hits with chestnuts ('Beer Barrel Polka') and covers of hits by others: Fats Waller's 'Hold Tight', Orin Tucker's 'Oh Johnny'.

They quarrelled a lot, right up until the end, perhaps partly because fans would not allow them to exist separately; "We weren't glued together," Patty said later. She recorded on her own '49-50 with Crosby, Gordon Jenkins, Victor Young; Maxene also went solo, but they continued singing together until LaVerne's death. Patty appeared in film The Phynx '69 and in a West Coast musical called Victory Canteen '72, set during WWII. Bette Midler's hit 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' '73 was a cover of theirs, and led to Patty and Maxene singing together for the last time on Broadway: Victory Canteen was rewritten and became Over Here '74-5, but they quarrelled over money with the producers and with each other, the show ran less than a year and a national tour was cancelled. The sisters were never reconciled.

Maxene became Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College in Nevada, teaching speech and drama, had a heart attack '82, then a bypass operation; and made a solo album '85 arranged by Arnold Goland. Midler wrote a sleeve note for Maxene on the Bainbridge label, the album including a medley of the sisters' hits, and new songs, e.g. 'I Suppose', written by Nancy Goland. Maxene appeared in a touring production of Follies '95, a trouper till the end. Patty was married twice: her first husband was wannabe Hollywood bigshot Marty Melcher; this lasted only two years, and Melcher later married Doris Day and wrought havoc on her career. Patty's second marriage, to Wally Weschler, who had been the sisters' pianist and conductor, lasted nearly 50 years until his death.