Don’t Forget The Boswells

I’ve written several times about singing sister acts, and there are a lot of fans who still remember the Fontanes, the Andrews Sisters and others. But one of the earliest and best of the sister groups might be a little less familiar, and that’s a shame because the Boswell Sisters were supremely talented.

The Boswell Sisters were New Orleans natives who began their careers in the 1920s by showcasing their instrumental talents in vaudeville-style theaters around their home city. Oldest sister Martha was a pianist and the youngest, Helvetia (Vet), played guitar, violin and banjo. Middle sister Connie — who was restricted to a wheelchair due to a childhood accident — played cello, sax, and guitar.bs1

It turned out that the girls’ talent extended to singing too, and they soon added close harmonies and precision vocal performances to their act, which by then was also featured on radio. By 1930 their burgeoning stardom had led them to appearances in Chicago and New York, and to a recording contract.

Over the next half-dozen years, the Boswells were one of the biggest hits around, appearing with everyone from the Dorseys to Bing Crosby to Cab Calloway. Their inventive phrasing and startling improvisations made them something very special, and audiences — and record buyers — loved them. Some of their best included “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Heebie Jeebies,” and their biggest, 1935’s “The Object of My Affection.”

By the late 1930s, the girls had decided to go their separate ways. Connie — who eventually began to call herself “Connee” — went on to a fairly successful solo career, while the other two settled into married life. Connie always had to work seated, but she didn’t let it slow her down — although she was unable to get permission to tour with wartime USO shows.

Oldest sister Martha died in 1958, Connie (Connee) in 1976, and youngest Helvetia (Vet) in 1988. All three “Bozzies” are fondly remembered at the Land Of Boz website.

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