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February 02, 2013 7:38 AM Patty Andrews, R.I.P.

By Kathleen Geier

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.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • K in VA on February 02, 2013 9:26 AM:

    Try sitting still through "Boogie Woodie Bugle Boy." Just try. It's been one of the favorite songs since forever, and the first thing I did when I read about Patty's death was listen to the CD again. And then again.

  • c u n d gulag on February 02, 2013 9:52 AM:

    Yeah, Kathleen, they were great!
    R.I.P. Ms. Andrews.

    "The Manhattan Transfer" covered some of their songs back in the early 70's, bringing back swing and organized dance steps some, which, unfortunately, swung the wrong way into Disco - UGH!

    And that scene was from Abbott and Costello's great movie, "Buck Privates" - one of their best movies, in a whole host of funny and terrific movies.

    In watching that scene this morning, thanks to you, I noticed something I never did in the literally dozens and dozens of times I've seen that movie before - about half of the soldiers are clapping off the beat!

    Watch it again, and see how many that group of all-white soldier-boys ain't got no rhythm!!!

    You'd think the director, if he didn't one them in the movie, might at least have brought in one "brother," to teach all them lily-white movie soldier-boys about clapping on the beat.

    And, you might suspect that if he cared, the guy playing the 'bugle-boy' would at least make the effort to fake taking a breath, or puffing out his cheeks, when he blows that horn.
    Now I'm not talking Louis A or Dizzie G, here, but, at least look like you know what to do with a horn, if it's handed to you a prop!

    That's why I don't watch video clips on my computers too much - I'm too close, and I notice sh*t I never noticed before when it was on a TV in another part of the room.

    It blows that 'willingness to suspend disbelief' sh*t all to Hell and back.

  • c u n d gulag on February 02, 2013 9:56 AM:

    OY!
    So many missed words in that mound of typed-turds.

    And writing "movie" three times in one sentence, is pretty annoying, too.

    I already had my cup of coffee, so I can't even use that as an excuse.

    Oh well...

  • martin on February 02, 2013 10:24 AM:

    Love listening to the Andrews Sisters, but watching them borders on painful.

    Like Pat Boone performing Tutti Fruiti, their choreography is full of black dancing signifiers restrained and desexualized for white consumption. And I'm sure is was considered totally appropriately sexy at the time.

    There was probably nothing they could do about it, and maybe it was different in concert.

    Nonetheless, cheers for their music and their influence on multiple generations. A good time was had by all.

  • schtick on February 02, 2013 10:55 AM:

    Loved their harmonies! And Bette Midler brought them back to a little popularity when she recorded Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. They were the best.

    Heaven has gained another great voice.

    RIP

  • reddogs on February 02, 2013 2:18 PM:

    Finally someone who echoes what I've thought for years ... the harmony produced by siblings is indeed almost eerie. Thanks to my mother I grew up listening to the Andrews Sisters, the McGuire Sisters and the Lennon Sisters in the '50's and beyond. (I'm happy to report I found Maggie, Terre and Suzzy all by myself :-)

  • Anonymous on February 02, 2013 4:09 PM:

    I mean this in only the nicest way but when I look at Ed's and Kathleen's musical offerings, I can't help but think of the movie Despicable Me.
    Gru: Why... why are you so old?

  • joel hanes on February 02, 2013 4:18 PM:

    They don't make stage acts like this any more.

  • penalcolony on February 02, 2013 7:42 PM:

    Ms. Geier et al:

    Two words: Boswell Sisters. Ruled the jazz vocal world from 1930-36, then broke up, leaving a gap for the Andrews group, who admitted copying the late-Boswell style. Connee (the spelling she used) Boswell, their main solo voice, was Ella Fitzgerald's idol.

    This is a part of your heritage you've never been told of, and everything they ever recorded is on youtube. Don't miss it.

  • penalcolony on February 02, 2013 8:14 PM:

    Some prime Boswell Sisters titles:

    It's The Girl
    Roll on, Mississippi
    Whe I Take My Sugar to Tea
    Was That the Human Thing to Do?
    Everybody Loves My Baby
    Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane
    We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye
    Forty-Second Street
    Shuffle Off to Buffalo
    You Oughta Be in Pictures
    Darktown Strutters Ball (VERY pre-Andrews)
    Don't Let Your Love Go Wrong ( " " " )

    As mentioned, all on youtube, as are many more, but these are good for starters . . .

  • Rick B on February 03, 2013 2:54 AM:

    I'm beginning to understand why older people obsessively read the obituaries. Their world is being slowly erased from living memory much like the memories of an Alzheimer's patient.

    WW II was before my time but filled the my earliest memories. My first non-Donald Duck comic book was about Air Force F-86 pilot Captain Steve Savage flying in Mig Alley over North Korea. My war was Vietnam, and I see in the deaths from WW II the approaching loss of my heroes - and villains.

    What was the Viking religion? You live on in the memories of those you leave behind? The Andrews Sisters live on today and will continue for a long, long time.

  • SecularAnimist on February 03, 2013 2:49 PM:

    Following on penalcolony's comments:

    The great Rob Bamberger played a lot of Andrews Sisters and Boswell Sisters recordings on his wonderful program "Hot Jazz Saturday Night" on WAMU (an NPR station in Washington DC) last night.

    I had not heard the Boswell sisters before, or heard much of the early Andrews Sisters when they were more heavily influenced by the Boswell Sisters (who the Andrews Sisters admired, and openly admitted copying).

    Really terrific stuff - more intricate, harmonically and rhythmically adventurous, and jazzier than the Andrews Sisters' later, more pop-oriented work (which was still great).

  • SecularAnimist on February 03, 2013 2:53 PM:

    Rick B wrote: "The Andrews Sisters live on today and will continue for a long, long time."

    Yep, their 1940s radio broadcasts are currently entertaining listeners about 70 light years away!

  • penalcolony on February 03, 2013 6:20 PM:

    SecularAnimist:

    Am DCist myself since 1957, and have known Bamberger via broadcasts and personally since the 1970s. Wasn't listening last night, but not at all surprised he made such an apt programming choice.

  • President Lindsay on February 03, 2013 8:38 PM:

    Thanks for posting that clip. That song was my absolute favorite when I was a kid (about 8 years old or so). We had it on an old 78 that I must have worn out playing. Probably drove my folks nuts, but I thought it was awesome (when that word actually meant something).