The twentieth century continues to recede ever further into the distant, irretrievable past. This becomes especially clear with each loss of the dwindling remaining links to that century — the musicians, the Hollywood stars, the political leaders, and other pop culture figures who made up the world of our parents and grandparents.
This week we lost Patty Andrews, the lead singer and last surviving member of one of the best-known musical acts of the World War II era, the Andrews Sisters. She was 94. In their time, the Andrews Sisters were wildly popular — according to Wikipedia, the only artist who sold more recordings than they did in the 1940s was Bing Crosby.
I have always adored the Andrews Sisters. Their harmonies were eerily tight in the way that only singing siblings’ harmonies can be, and they swung like nobody’s business. More than that, though, to me, they were avatars of female liberation. They jolted American culture with a blast of that Rosie the Riveter energy that was animating society as a whole at the time … that is, until the war was over, and women were abruptly shoved back into the kitchen.
In their heyday, though, the Andrews Sisters vividly demonstrated that sisterhood was not only powerful, it could also be a hell of a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call them the original white hipster chicks. Certainly, no white women before them had crossed over into popular culture with personae that relied so heavily on cool affect and jazz slang (“beat me daddy, eight to the bar” and all that).
The Andrew Sisters’ legacy will live in on in their recorded music and their (too few, alas) filmed performances. Patty and her sisters LaVerne and Maxene brought much mad joy to the world. I and millions of others am grateful for it.
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