OBITUARY : Maxene Andrews

"We wanted to sing like trumpets," said Maxene, one third of the immortal Andrews Sisters. "Bugles" would have been a more appropriate analogy; during the Second World War millions of fighting men were cheered by their brassy vocals. The most popular, most durable singing group of all time, Patty, Maxene and LaVerne were later decorated by the US government for their wartime morale-building.

When people referred to the sisters, Maxene was usually called "the pretty one" or "the one on the left". Tall, red- headed LaVerne was the one on the right, with peppy, blonde Patty in the middle. "With a harmony group, the girl who sang lead had to be in the middle," Maxene explained. "That was where the mike was - and Patty could never sing harmony."

If Patty was the Middle Sister in the act, Maxene occupied that position chronologically; LaVerne was a year older and Patty four years younger. Born of a Greek father and a Norwegian mother in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the three showed early musical promise. LaVerne taught herself to play piano, Patty won tap-dancing prizes and Maxene was singing on local radio at the age of four. At six she was performing at luncheons held by the Daughters of the American Revolution and for war veterans at local hospitals.

The decision to form a sister act was prompted by the swinging close harmony of the New-Orleans-born Boswell Sisters. "LaVerne played by ear, and she'd remember their arrangements," Maxine recalled. "We got so good at copying the Boswells that we developed a southern accent."

They sang together at school dances and won a talent competition at a local cinema. In 1932 they were hired by the bandleader Larry Rich, who took them on a coast-to-coast vaudeville tour. Eventually vaudeville died and the sisters, who by now had developed their own distinctive vocal style, sang with various bands before the recording executive Dave Kapp heard them on the radio and proffered a Decca contract. Their first release got nowhere and they feared they'd be dropped. Then Lou Levy, their manager, brought them a tune he had sung as a boy. "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (Means That You're Grand)", a modern adaptation of a Yiddish song, became the first million-seller by a female group and brought the sisters world-wide fame. Between 1937 and 1941 they had further record hits with "Hold Tight!", "Beer Barrel Polka", "Oh Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh!", "Apple Blossom Time" and the novelty trilogy "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar", "Scrub Me, Mamma with a Boogie Beat" and "Bounce Me Brother with a Solid Four".

After America entered the war came the time for which the Andrews Sisters were born: they sold bonds, made frequent overseas tours and recorded such hits as "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree", "Pistol Packin' Mama", "Rum and Coca Cola" and "Don't Fence Me In". They also starred in 14 films, only two of which were "A" features. It was Maxene who, realising that the "B" musicals were hurting their career, took their film contract to a lawyer. He found a loophole and, with one bound, the sisters were free.

After the war they sang "You Don't Have To Know the Language" with Bing Crosby in The Road To Rio, and recorded the best-selling "Civilisation" with Danny Kaye, but in 1953 internecine disputes caused the trio to break up for three years. They disbanded permanently and tragically in 1967 when LaVerne died of cancer. Maxene, who had begun studying speech and drama during the first break-up, joined the Lake Tahoe Paradise College of Fine Arts as Dean of Women, soon rising to vice-president.

In 1973 Bette Midler made a hit recording of the sisters' 1941 "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" singing all three parts. "I was flattered," declared Maxene. "She did a wonderful job and we're very indebted to Bette, because she recreated interest in the Andrews Sisters." Their early discs were re- released and Maxene and Patty co-starred in the musical Over Here! (1974). As the De Paul Sisters, veteran singers who volunteer to entertain servicemen during the Second World War, they appeared on Broadway for nearly a year.

In 1982, after a series of Chicago concerts, Maxene had a heart attack and a quadruple bypass operation followed. She was soon singing again, making Maxene (1985), a solo album consisting of standards, some undistinguished new songs and an overdubbed medley of the sisters' old hits. Bette Midler wrote the sleeve notes.

Dick Vosburgh

Maxene Andrews, singer: born Minneapolis 3 January 1916; married 1941 Lou Levy (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1950); died Boston, Massachusetts 21 October 1995.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'