Tag: Andrew Sisters

Women of the Big Band Era that Everyone Should Know

The Women of the Big Band Era

2 were singers in a Big Band

2 were Big Bands

2 were Sister Acts

And 2 were stars on the Swing Dance Floors. These are just some of the women of the Big Band Era that I wanted to highlight for today’s post.

The Girl Groups:

The Boswell Sisters

The Boswell Sisters with Bing Crosby

The Boswell Sisters were a close harmony singing group, consisting of sisters Martha Boswell, Connee Boswell, and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, noted for intricate harmonies and rhythmic experimentation (source).

They had up 20 hits during the 1930s, including the number-one record “The Object of My Affection” (1935). They also completed two successful tours of Europe, appeared on the inaugural television broadcast of CBS, and performed on Hello, Europe, the first internationally broadcast radio program.

The Sisters were also some of the radio’s earliest stars, making them one of the first hit acts of the mass-entertainment age. In 1934, the Sisters appeared 13 times on the Bing Crosby Entertains radio show on CBS. They were featured in fan magazines, and their likenesses were used in advertisements for beauty and household products (source).

For more information please visit the official Boswell website HERE.

Andrew Sisters

Andrew Sisters

The Andrew Sisters started out as a tribute band to the sisters mentioned above “The Boswells” but quickly found their own style and their own hits turning them into America’s most popular female singing group.

The group consisted of three sisters: contralto LaVerne Sophia, soprano Maxine Angelyn “Maxene”, and mezzo-soprano Patricia Marie “Patty”. After 6 years on the road with various dance bands and touring in vaudville, they had their first hit with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön”. They followed this success with a string of best-selling records over the next two years and they became a household name by the 1940s.

The sisters sold well over 75 million records (the last official count released by MCA Records in the mid-1970s), starred in 17 Hollywood movies and were established radio personalities. Their 1941 hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” can be considered an early example of rhythm and blues or jump blues (source).

During their musical career they were very active in their patriotic duty of wartime entertainment. They volunteered their free time to entertain enlisted and wounded men by singing, dancing and signing autographs (source).

For more on the Andrew Sisters please visit their official site HERE.

The Big Band Singers:

Helen Forrest

Helen Forrest 1945 in novelty blouse

Helen served as the “girl singer” for three of the most popular big bands of the Swing Era (Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James), thereby earning a reputation as “the voice of the name bands” (source) . She is regarded by some as the best female vocalist of the swing era. With James she had three million selling records and countless Top Ten hits, and for two years running was voted the most popular female vocalist in America (source).

FACT: Helen Forrest was one of the first singers in the big band era whose vocals were featured throughout a full band arrangement. Before this time, big band vocalists usually sang in the middle of a song (Source).

For more information on Helen visit HERE.

Martha Tilton 

martha-tilton
Source: Old Time Radio Catalog

Martha Tilton, who as one of Benny Goodman’s vocalists in the 1930s was billed as the “Sweetheart of Swing” and appeared on 80 of his recordings (source). She also appeared with Jimmy Dorsey and briefly with Artie Shaw later on in her career.

Fun Story:

Early in her career with the Goodman organization, Martha was singing at the SunnyBrook Ballroom in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. When it came time for Benny to introduce her, he gave her a big buildup: “Here is a pretty gal from Hollywood that’s really going places.” But Martha missed her cue. When she didn’t appear on stage, after a moment Benny ad-libbed, “She’s not going places, she’s already gone.” (source).

For more information on Martha visit HERE.

The Big Bands:

International Sweethearts of Rhythm

International Sweethearts of Rhythm

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was the first integrated all women’s band in the United States.

The Sweethearts began in the rural junction of Piney Woods, Miss., in 1937. Lawrence Jones had founded a vocational school there primarily for young black children and teens and wanted to raise money by forming a student swing band (Source).  Members from different races, including Latina, Asian, Caucasian, Black, Indian and Puerto Rican, lent the band an “international” flavor, and the name International Sweethearts of Rhythm was given to the group.

Though known mostly to black audiences the band quickly rose in popularity playing in theatres like the Apollo in Harlem and the Howard Theatre in Washington when the band set a new box office record of 35,000 patrons in one week of 1941. Things though were not always wonderful for the band, especially when they traveled in the south where the Jim Crow Law was in full effect. The law forced the band to sleep and eat on their bus because of the segregation laws that prevented them from using restaurants and hotels (among many other issues brought on by this law).

In 1944 the band was named “America’s No. 1 All-Girl Orchestra” by Downbeat magazine.

For more information on the Sweethearts visit HERE.

Ivy Benson and Her All-Girl Band

Ivy-Benson-and her all girl orchestra

Ivy Benson was an English musician and bandleader, who in 1939 led an all-female swing band to prove to the world that women could be good musicians too. Benson and her band rose to fame in the 1940s, headlining variety theatres and topping the bill at the London Palladium, and became the BBC’s resident house band. Her band (in one form or another) ran from 1939 to 1982. During those years, she gave hundreds of girls and women the chance to become professional musicians.

Fun Fact: Benson’s band had a high turnover of musicians, as they frequently left to marry G.I.s they met while touring. She once commented, “I lost seven in one year to America. Only the other week a girl slipped away from the stage. I thought she was going to the lavatory but she went off with a G.I. Nobody’s seen her since” (source).

For more on Ivy visit HERE.

 

The Dancers:

Norma Miller-The Queen of Swing

Norma Miller Lindy Hopper

 

Known to many as the Queen of Swing, and the last living member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the group that took Lindy Hop — the original swing dance — out of Harlem’s ballrooms and across the world (she is 95).

Norma Miller was first discovered as a gifted young Lindy Hopper when she was just 12 years old.  She was found dancing on the sidewalk outside of the Savoy Ballroom (because she was too young to go in) where the music could be heard quite well (source).

Later that year, Miller entered the Savoy Lindy Hop Contest, which was held at the Apollo Theater. Miller entered with one of her high school friends. They won the contest and Norma was asked to join Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. The group rose to prominence after winning a contest at the Harvest Moon Ball. Miller and the group performed on Broadway and in several motion pictures.

Miller has written several books, appeared in six films and four television series.

In 2003, Miller was given a “National Heritage Fellowship” from the National Endowment for the Arts for creating and continuing to preserve “the acrobatic style swing dance, known as the Lindy Hop (source).

Today Norma currently tours the world, spreading the joy and history of Lindy Hop to new generations of swing dancers and interested audiences.

On a personal level I have been fortunate enough to meet Norma in person when she was visiting Toronto a couple of years ago for a Lindy Hop weekend. She is an incredible woman with so much sass and humor, you cannot help but be instantly drawn to her.

For more on Norma please visit her website HERE.

Here is her most well-known film appearance is in the swing dancing scene in the film Hellzapoppin, featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Jewel McCowan – One of the greatest Lindy Hop Followers that ever lived.

Jewel McGowan Lindy Hop

Jewel by the age of 19 was working as a dancer in music clubs, and doing the Southern California partnered street dance known to them as “Swing”. It was during this time in the late 1930s that a New Jersey Lindy Hop dancer going by the name Dean Collins came to town looking for a partner. He found Jewel, and out of their collaboration came what is now widely regarded as the greatest dancing partnership of the original swing dance era. They would go on to appear in dozens of Hollywood films and shorts.

Jewel did not dance a lot of variations, but instead expressed her powerful voice in her movement and attitude. Jewels swivels (you will know them when you see them) are credited as being without equal (source).

Here is a compilation of Jewel’s movies (and moves).

Well friends, I hope you enjoyed learning about SOME of the women of the Big Band Era. I plan on doing a part 2 to this post in the coming months, so stay tuned for that.

Who was your favorite?

Liz 🙂

 

Guy Lombardo-Canada’s Famous Big Band Leader

During this holiday season, if you listen to vintage Christmas tunes you will at one point run across Guy Lombardo, particularly at New Years Eve with the famous song ‘Auld Lang Syne. But did you know that this famous Big Band Leader was a Canadian? Yes Mister Lombardo was born in London, Ontario the same city where my mother was born and raised and 1 hour from my hometown of Sarnia.

Guy Lombardo

Background

Guy (Gaetano Alberto) was born in London, Ontario, June 19, 1902 to Italian immigrant parents and was the eldest of seven children—five boys and two girls—born between 1902 and 1924. His father, who had worked as a tailor, was an amateur singer with a baritone voice and had four of his five sons learn to play instruments so they could accompany him (Guy learned the Violin).

Lombardo and his brothers formed their first orchestra while still in grammar school and rehearsed in the back of their father’s tailor shop (Source).

1917 was the year that Guy would trade in the Violin for a conductor’s baton and in the summer of 1919 the band (which still included some of his brothers) fulfilled its first significant engagement at an outdoor dance pavilion in Grand Bend, Ont.

A new name is formed and a new Country adopted

After a couple of different gigs in Ontario, 21-year-old Guy decided that the group was wasting its time in Canada. Within a few weeks he left London and headed to Cleveland, Ohio in the winter of 1923. This move would forever change the band by helping them to find their distinct sound and start them onto a path of success that Guy and the band never thought would happen in Canada.

Guy Lombardo first recording session
Source: Times Past Old Time Radio

To attract more followers (outside of paid gigs in clubs), Guy paid for air time on US radio’s. A move that helped build his audience and boost his popularity. By 1924 the bands agent wanted to dress the band members in Canadian Mountie uniforms to enhance their look, but Lombardo balked and countered with a proposal of his own: calling the band the Royal Canadians (Source).

Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians is born.

Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians

Success came quickly for the band after that and they were coined by the Chicago Tribune in 1928 as having ‘the sweetest music this side of Heaven’.

33 year residency is acquired

In 1929 the band began a 33-year residency at the Roosevelt Grill in New York. This is where the famous annual broadcasted New Years celebrations would begin for the band.

The Roosevelt Grill - The Winter Home of Guy Lombardo
Source: Card Cow

Youngest Sister Joins the Band

Guy and his brothers asked Rose Marie to join the Royal Canadians as a singer and she began performing with the band in 1941 at age 16 (source).

Guy_Lombardo_and_siblings

Portrait of Carmen Lombardo, Rose Marie Lombardo, Guy Lombardo, and Don Rodney, Starlight Roof, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1947
Portrait of Carmen Lombardo, Rose Marie Lombardo, Guy Lombardo, and Don Rodney, Starlight Roof, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1947

Winter Wonderland

In 1934 Guy and the Royal Canadians performed one of the most successful recordings of Winter Wonderland. It actually was a top 10 hit at the time of introduction. Then in 1946 it was brought back with the Andrew Sisters at the Helm and Guy and his band accompanying them for a more Boogie Woogie Version.

I honestly prefer the Andrew Sisters version the best (but you take a listen and let me know what you like).

Andrew Sisters Version

Possible Canadian Mention in “Christmas Island” with the Andrew Sisters

Working with the Andrew Sisters on the song Christmas Island the sisters sing the choruses song as, “Aloha – eh!“. It’s rumored that it was a node to Guy’s Canadian Roots (source).

Side Note: I have not been able to find this version with the “eh” but it was still fun to add to this post.

Andrew sisters Guy Lombardo White christmas Album
Source: Music Stack

Over 100 million records sold Between 1927 and 1954. AND between that time there wasn’t a single year the band didn’t produce a record that hit the charts, many of them going to No. 1 (21 number-one hits to be exact).

Guy Lombardo hits

The band also set an audience attendance record at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. It was 1930 and 3,715 paying customers saw Guy Lombardo play the famed Ballroom (Source).

Crowd Outside the Savoy, Harlem
Source: 100 Treasures

Not just a band leader….

Guy was also a well-known Speed boat racer and won many awards including winning the 1946 Gold Cup race on the Detroit River (plus many more after that).

Guy Lombardo Speed Boat Racer

Auld Lang Syne

He became an institution hosting televised New Year’s Eve broadcasts from New York, making his rendition of  “Auld Lang Syne” a national standard and his lasting legacy.

The Guy Lombardo New Year’s Eve Party premiered at New York’s Roosevelt Grill on December 31, 1929 and would play there until around 1959 (note: this date has changed several times in my research) where he went on to have his New Years celebrations at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria Hotel until 1976.

It’s also important to note for those who might not be aware that Guy Lombardo New Years parties were originally heard live on the CBS Radio Network before midnight Eastern Time, then on the NBC Radio Network after midnight.

On Dec. 31, 1956, the Lombardo band did their first New Year’s TV special on CBS; the program included a live segment from Times Square showcasing the arrival of the New Year. This would carry on till 1976.

Variety once described Guy Lombardo as “the only Canadian ever to create an American tradition” (Source).

Only Canadian to have three stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame

Comedian Bob Hope is the only one that has more. The practice of giving out more than one star has been discounted (source).

Guy Lombardo Hollywood Walk of Fame
Source: As times go by

Never forgot his roots

In 1937, a great flood deluged parts of London. Lombardo cancelled a performance in nearby Detroit to return home to play a benefit concert for the victims.

Between 1955 and his death in 1977, Lombardo appeared in London nearly 20 times (Source).

Guy Lombardo London Ontario

He also came back to Canada to play in other venues during his career, like in Toronto at the CNE in 1937.

Guy-Lombardo-1930s-Toronto-Big-Band

Canada Post even issued him a stamp in December 1999 (Yes we love him that much).

Guy Lombardo Stamp
Source: Canadian Coin News

Guy suddenly passed away in November of 1977.

In the end you make think of Guy Lombardo as “cheesy” as it was often joked that he was but you really honestly cannot deny that he knew what he was doing as a Band Leader and brought us music that is still listened to today. AND by the way…Louis Armstrong LOVED his music (source) which makes him even cooler in my mind now.

Guy Lombardo New Years Eve

Liz 🙂