Patty Andrews: The last of the Andrews Sisters


The Andrews Sisters were the American equivalent of Vera Lynn with the British troops in wartime. They boosted morale, sold war bonds and were the forces' sweethearts who made GIs reminisce about life back home. They sold 50 million records, which included "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar" and "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree".

Without undermining Maxene and Laverne's contributions, Patty was the focal point, the blonde in the middle who sang lead and was a versatile comedienne. The Andrews Sisters are the most popular sister act of all time, but fame came with a price as they fell out with each other. They rarely discussed their differences, feeling that it would destroy their public image.

Patty Andrews was born in Mound, Minnesota in 1918. Her father, Peter, was a Greek immigrant who had changed the family name from Andreos to Andrews, while her mother, Olga, was Norwegian. They encouraged the musical abilities of all three daughters, with Patty becoming a champion tap dancer around Minneapolis.

In the early 1930s the family would listen to The Camel Cigarette Program with Bing Crosby and a southern trio, the Boswell Sisters. They copied the Boswells' harmonies and in 1932 with Laverne 21, Maxene 16 and Patty 14, they started to perform professionally. They toured with the Larry Rich Troupe and then worked with Ted Mack's orchestra.

They sang with the Leon Belasco Orchestra at the Mayfair Hotel in Kansas City but the hotel burned down, destroying their wardrobe and the band's instruments and scores. Belasco returned with Vic Schoen, who wrote new arrangements with less sophistication and more swing for the girls and thereby created their sound.

In 1937 Peter Andrews gave them three months to find success in New York or else take secretarial jobs. Fortunately, Schoen secured a radio performance for them from the Edison Hotel. An executive for US Decca was impressed and invited them to record four sides for $50 apiece. One song, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You're Grand)", was a Yiddish folk tune with a new lyric from the up-and-coming Sammy Cahn. It became the group's first million-seller.

In 1940 the Andrews Sisters signed with Universal and were featured in a dozen films, mostly singing but also acting. In Buck Privates with Abbott and Costello they performed two songs that would become associated with them; the sentimental "I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time" and the Oscar-nominated "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". The film implied that the forces were a barrel of laughs, but it was the tonic that troops needed.

In Hollywood Canteen (1944), they sang Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In" with Roy Rogers, but recorded it with Bing Crosby; it became of one of their biggest records. Crosby also recorded "Pistol Packin' Mama" (1943) with them and they appeared with him and Bob Hope in The Road To Rio (1947). They often worked with other performers including "The Old Piano Roll Blues" (Al Jolson), "Blue Tail Fly" (Burl Ives) and "The Woody Woodpecker Song" (Danny Kaye). They recorded "Christmas Island" with Guy Lomardo and his Orchestra.

In 1945 the Andrews Sisters were performing for GIs in Italy when the commanding officer came on stage and handed Patty a note. She announced that the war was over and always regarded the response as their greatest ovation.

They had problems with the BBC which banned their calypso "Rum And Coca-Cola" (1945) on grounds of advertising. Local acts beat the ban by singing "Rum And Li-mon-Na-Da". "Rum And Coca-Cola" became the second biggest-selling seller of the 1940s, outsold only by Bing Crosby's "White Christmas". In January 1950 they topped the US charts with "I Can Dream, Can't I".

Patty married the film producer Marty Melcher in 1947 but the marriage only lasted two years, Melcher later marrying Doris Day. In 1951 she married their pianist and conductor, Wally Weschler. He encouraged Patty to turn solo, which led to lawsuits when they split in 1953, as Maxene and Laverne felt their earnings had been compromised.

They reunited in 1956, though Laverne died from cancer in 1967 and Patty continued on her own. In 1973 Bette Midler revived "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and created new interest in the group. In 1974 Patty and Maxene worked in the Broadway musical, Over Here!, but the show folded within a year. Although they lived close to each other in San Fernando Valley, they remained apart; they were briefly reunited when Maxene suffered a heart attack in 1982 and five years later they unveiled their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Maxene died in 1995 when they were still estranged. Patty toured the UK in 1990 as guest vocalist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Spencer Leigh

Patricia Marie Andrews, singer: born Mound, Minnesota 16 February 1918; married 1947 Marty Melcher (divorced 1949), 1951 Wally Weschler (died 2010); died Northridge, Los Angeles 30 January 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk