Patty Andrews, Last Survivor of Wartime Sister Trio, Dies at 94

Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters trio, who lifted American spirits in World War II with songs such as “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” has died. She was 94.

She died yesterday at her home in Los Angeles, of natural causes, the Associated Press reported, citing family spokesman Alan Eichler.

The Andrews Sisters were the most popular female vocal group of the first half of the 20th century, selling more than 90 million records, recording 700 songs and placing 46 hits in the top 10 on the Billboard pop charts. Their version of the calypso song “Rum and Coca-Cola” was the best-selling record of 1945.

With their unbridled patriotism and midwestern good-girl image, the Andrews Sisters helped define wartime America. They performed in uniform at military bases and hospitals, appeared regularly on Armed Forces Radio and toured Italy with the USO. They also sold war bonds and sang in flag-waving films such as “Buck Privates” and “Stage Door Canteen.”

“We were such a part of everybody’s life in the Second World War,” Patty once said. “We represented something overseas and at home, a sense of security.”

Inspired by the Boswell Sisters, a New Orleans jazz trio in the 1920s and early 1930s, the Andrews Sisters developed intricate and rhythmic three-part harmonies that were the vocal counterpart of the era’s instrumental swing bands.

Singing Yiddish

They chose songs that went against the tide of popular music, shunning romantic ballads in favor of novelty numbers and boogie woogie. The group’s recordings included songs from other languages as well: Their first big hit was “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” an Anglicized version of a song from Yiddish theater.

“Patty, Maxene and LaVerne were rambunctious, highly stylized performers who adapted the swing instrumentation to the capabilities of the human voice,” said music historian Tony Palmer.

The only blonde in the group, Patty stood in the middle of the trio and took the solos. She sang sassy duets with Bing Crosby and joked with comedian Lou Costello in films such as “In the Navy.” In her solo on “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” Patty danced to the front, miming the trumpet player while singing about the Chicago jazz musician whose “number came up” and was in the army now, blowing reveille.

“Patty was the fun one of the group, the clown who kept us laughing during those endless periods of backstage boredom between shows when we were doing five and six shows a day,” wrote Maxene Andrews in her 1993 memoir of the war years, “Over Here, Over There.”

Trumpet Emulators

Patricia Marie Andrews was born in Mound, Minnesota, on Feb. 16, 1918, the daughter of a Greek immigrant father and a Norwegian immigrant mother who ran a restaurant in Minneapolis. The sisters developed an interest in music as children and began performing on local radio stations and in amateur revues. They aimed to emulate vocally the sound produced by three trumpets.

After making their professional debut in Minneapolis in December 1932, the girls joined a vaudeville troupe and toured the Midwest for six months. Their parents later closed the restaurant to devote themselves to the girls’ career as the sisters toured with bands from 1934 to 1937.

In 1937, the sisters went to New York and in time signed with Decca Records, which had recorded the Boswell Sisters and was looking for another female vocal group.

‘Hold Tight’

Their second Decca single, “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” shot to No. 1 on the charts in January 1938 after the trio performed it on the popular radio show “Your Hit Parade.” Now stars, the Andrews Sisters scored another hit in 1939 with the novelty song “Hold Tight, Hold Tight,” then signed with Universal Pictures and appeared in 17 low-budget pictures in the next eight years.

The sisters made the top 10 in 1940 with one of the few ballads they recorded, “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time,” which was featured in the film “Buck Privates.”

After a lengthy musicians’ strike that began in 1942, when the sisters returned to the recording studio they were often paired with Bing Crosby.

“I was so nervous, I didn’t think I would able to sing,” Patty Andrews told Crosby’s biographer, Charles Thompson.

Somehow, she managed -- and the collaboration was a major success. Among their many hits with Crosby was the country-and- western number, “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” which sold more than 1 million copies in 1943.

Last Performance

In 1944, the Andrews Sisters began their own weekly radio show, “Eight-to-Bar Ranch.” Four years later, Patty Andrews embarked on a concurrent solo career. As a group, they scored two No. 1 hits in 1950 with Patty singing lead and her sisters more or less relegated to the background. The trio continued to record for Decca until 1953.

Following LaVerne’s death in 1967, the group continued with Joyce DeYoung. They performed as a trio for the last time in July 1968, although the group enjoyed somewhat of a revival five years later when Bette Midler’s remake of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” rose to No. 8 on the Billboard charts and led to the release of two Andrews Sisters compilations.

Patty Andrews resumed her solo career in 1971, appearing in a Los Angeles revue called “Victory Canteen.” Maxene was brought in and the show was expanded into a full book musical. Called “Over Here!” the show ran 10 months on Broadway before closing in January 1975 after a dispute between Patty and Maxene.

Patty and Maxene remained estranged and rarely spoke until Maxene’s death in 1995.

In 1991, a half century after the Andrews Sisters topped the charts, a World War II veteran approached Maxene after a performance.

“I don’t know if you think this is a compliment,” he said, “but to me and my buddies, the Andrews Sisters are synonymous with World War II.”

“I told him,” Maxene recalled, “that it was one of the nicest compliments we ever had.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Schoifet in New York at mschoifet@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Charles W. Stevens at cstevens@bloomberg.net

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