6:03pm

Wed January 30, 2013
The Record

Patty Andrews, Leader Of The Andrews Sisters, Dies

Originally published on Thu January 31, 2013 11:40 am

Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters trio, died of natural causes at her home in Los Angeles on Wednesday, according to her management. She was 94. The group's career spanned more than five decades and resulted in 90 million records and 46 top 10 hits.

The youngest of the sisters, Patricia Marie Andrews was just 19 when the trio became an overnight sensation crooning "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," a tune originally written for the Yiddish theater. Patty not only sang lead; she was clearly the star of the group.

"Patty was an outstanding presence. She was the leader; she was the one that your eyes would focus on," says Joel Whitburn, founder of Record Research, a company that's tracked Billboard's popular music charts for almost 40 years. "She just seemed to effuse that warmth and personality and charm and smile — and vigor — more so than the other two sisters."

By the onset of World War II, the Andrews Sisters were at the top of the charts. As the troops headed overseas, the sisters were drafted into service in their own way, playing more USO tours than any other entertainer besides Bob Hope. They also recorded morale-boosting "Victory Discs" for distribution to Allied forces, one of which featured their signature hit, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

The trio became synonymous with the war effort. They were getting ready to perform outside Naples, Italy, for troops headed to the Pacific when Patty was handed a piece of paper to read. As her sister Maxene told NPR in 1993, Patty "opened up this piece of paper, and she looked at it, and then she started to cry. And she said, 'Boys, the note reads here — the war with Japan is over.' "

As the war ended, the Andrews Sisters became the stars of their own radio program, The Andrews Sisters Show. Patty also led them through more than a dozen movies, like Hollywood Canteen. The Andrews Sisters typically appeared as themselves in films, and often Patty took the romantic lead.

Patty Andrews had a strong desire to stand out and didn't like that her career identity seemed permanently tied to the Andrews Sisters. She made the first of several attempts to launch a solo career with 1950's "I Wanna Be Loved" — but her sisters sang backup, and the song was officially released as an Andrews Sisters recording. Patty's solo aspirations caused the trio to break up in 1953, though they reunited a few short years later.

After LaVerne died of cancer in the late '60s, the remaining sisters continued as a duo. Maxene died in 1995. But it's possible that Patty's most fulfilling partnership was with Wally Wechsler, to whom she was married for more than 60 years.

The influence of the Andrews Sisters looms large over the last half-century of music: Their catalog, some 1,800 songs, has been thoroughly mined by other artists. In 1972, Bette Midler introduced "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to a new generation of music fans with her own hit version. And just a few years ago, Christina Aguilera's "Candyman" gave a clear tip of the hat to the tune — and its makers.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's take a few moments to remember one of the most famous voices of what many Americans view as "the good war."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUM AND COCA-COLA")

ANDREW SISTERS: (Singing) Drinking rum and Coca-Cola, go down Point Koomahnah. Both mother and daughter working for the Yankee dollar...

MONTAGNE: The Andrew Sisters, singing one of their biggest hits from the World War II-era. The longest-surviving member of that trio, Patty Andrews, has died at her home in Southern California. She was 94. Over the trio's long career, the Andrews Sisters sold 90 million records and had dozens of top-10 hits.

NPR's Amy Blaszyk has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIER MIR BIST DU SCHOEN")

AMY BLASZYK, BYLINE: Patty Andrews was just 19, the youngest of the Andrews Sisters, when the trio became an overnight sensation crooning this old Yiddish folk tune. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The following song is not a Yiddish folk tune. It was written for the Yiddish theater.]

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIER MIR BIST DU SCHOEN")

ANDREW SISTERS: (Singing) Of all the boys I've known, and I've known some, until I first met you, I was lonesome...

BLASZYK: Patty not only sang lead, she was clearly the star of the group.

JOEL WHITBURN: Patty was an outstanding presence. She was the leader; she was the one that your eyes were focused on.

BLASZYK: That's Joel Whitburn. He founded Record Research, a company that's tracked Billboard's popular music charts for almost 40 years. As the authoritative historian on charted music, he's heard a lot of singers.

WHITBURN: She just seemed to effuse that warmth and personality and charm and smile - and vigor, more so than the other two sisters.

BLASZYK: At the onset of World War II, their popularity pushed them to the top of the charts. As the troops headed overseas, the Andrews Sisters were in their own way drafted into service. Only Bob Hope did more USO tours than the trio. And they recorded Victory Discs for distribution to allied troops.

PATTY ANDREWS: Hello, all you fellas all over the world. Greetings from the Andrews Sisters. I'm Patty.

MAXENE ANDREWS: I'm Maxene.

LAVERNE ANDREWS: And I'm Laverne.

BLASZYK: The trio became synonymous with the war effort. They were getting ready to perform outside of Naples, Italy, for troops headed to the Pacific when Patty was handed a piece of paper to read. Maxene Andrews told the story to NPR, in 1993.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING

M. ANDREWS: She opened up this piece of paper, and she looked at it, and then she started to cry. And she said, boys, the note reads here that the war with Japan is over.

BLASZYK: As the war ended, the Andrews Sisters became the stars of their own radio show, transporting listeners weekly to the "Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch." In a guest appearance on his radio show, Bing Crosby teased the girls about their new property.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE BING CROSBY SHOW")

BING CROSBY: Gee, aren't you gals afraid out there alone in the desert, with the wind whistling and the wolves howling?

P. ANDREWS: Well, Bingo, it's just as safe as Hollywood and Vine, with the wind howling and the wolves whistling.

CROSBY: Mm-hmm.

(LAUGHTER)

BLASZYK: Patty led the Andrews Sisters through more than a dozen movies, like "Hollywood Canteen."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN")

P. ANDREWS: (as herself, to character played by Peter Lorre) Well, who's little who are you?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (as character) Oh, this is Patty Andrews.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (as character) Hello. I thought you looked familiar.

BLASZYK: The Andrews Sisters typically appeared as themselves in films.

Marcella Puppini has always been a fan. She's one-third of the Puppini Sisters, a group that pays homage to the Andrews Sisters' work. She says movies were another stage on which Patty took the lead.

MARCELLA PUPPINI: She seemed to be the one that had the romantic parts as well. There was always a little bit of romantic interest for - for Patty.

BLASZYK: Patty had a strong desire to stand out. She didn't like that her career identity seemed permanently entrenched with the Andrews Sisters. In 1950, she made the first of several attempts to launch a solo career, with this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT TO BE LOVED")

P. ANDREWS: (Singing) I want to be loved with inspiration...

BLASZYK: But the song, with Patty's sisters singing backup, was still released as an Andrews Sisters recording. And Patty wanted more. Her solo aspirations caused the trio to break up in 1953, though they reunited a few short years later. After Laverne died of cancer in the late 1960s, the remaining sisters continued as a duo. Maxene died in 1995.

The Andrews Sisters' catalog - some 1,800 songs - has been thoroughly mined by other artists over the years - most notably, Bette Midler in 1972.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY")

BETTE MIDLER: (Singing) He was a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way. He had a boogie style that no one else could play...

BLASZYK: Followed by the Puppini Sisters...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY")

PUPPINI SISTERS: (Singing) He was the top man at his craft. But then his number came up and he was gone with the draft...

BLASZYK: And most recently, Christina Aguilera, with her twist on the famous tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANDYMAN")

CHRISTINA AGUILERA: (Singing) I met him out for dinner on a Friday night. He really had me working up an appetite...

BLASZYK: But it's possible that Patty Andrews' most fulfilling partnership was with her husband, Wally Weschler, to whom she was married for more than 60 years.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Blaszyk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY")

ANDREW SISTERS: (Singing) He's the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B. He's... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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