Thursday, January 31, 2013

The "Last of the Sunbeams" Says Goodbye

Alas, a Café favorite is no more, for the last of the Andrews Sisters, Patty, has gone to sit under some other apple tree.  She had a long, good life, I know, but it's still sad to lose another of the few (ever fewer) remaining links to the receding first half of the last century.

The kind of fame that the Andrews Sisters had doesn't really exist anymore - they were loved, warmly, as few other musical acts could ever hope to be, and while their popular image, established in the '30s but forever fixed in an eternal wartime 1944, never really allowed them to do much beyond what was expected, they did it brilliantly.  Their three voices, distinct, with Patty's strong mezzo anchoring Maxene's soprano and Laverne's deep alto, blended in ways that made it seem at times one voice with three tones, a distinctly pleasing effect that owed everything to the discipline of their work and nothing to the kind of studio trickery that makes so many of today's pop singers (barely) palatable.

Today we'll be hearing lots and lots of "Bei mir bist du schön," and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," and, inevitably, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," so I thought it might be fun to see what the trio did with something lesser known.  The Andrews' pictures would never be mistaken for works of art, this one (Her Lucky Night, 1945) very much included, but they were jolly affairs that were reassuringly upbeat for war-weary audiences and made heaps of cash for Universal.  In this number they wax Caribbean to "Sing a Tropical Song" (and why the girls kept getting handed ethnic material is a question for the ages, for these Greek-Scandinavians are just about as Anglo in presentation as you can be. Maybe that's why...) and have a good time doing so.  The film also included the better-known "Straighten up and Fly Right," which is almost as much fun, and it can even be seen in full in all its B-musical splendor (the sisters aside, the cast is pretty relentlessly B - even Bess Flowers gave it a miss).

The three sisters had ups and downs in their relationships, and through the years they grew tired of being thought of as a unit.  Patty's solo career was respectable, but there was always something missing in hearing any of the three voices solo.  I hope, living as long as she did and so much longer than her two sisters, Patty by the end understood what a special phenomenon she'd been a part of, and how much they meant.  Taking to the Twitter, Bette Midler (who did so much to bring the Andrews catalogue back to the fore when she made "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" a hit all over again) today called Patty "last of the sunbeams of WWII," and while Dame Vera Lynn might have a word or two about that, I love the image of the Andrews Sisters as sunbeams; warm and cosy and above all encouraging, it fits.  It's awfully trite to say, I know, but we will not see their like again.


  1. RIP, indeed. It would be interesting to find our exactly which island in tropical Minnesota they were supposed to be from, in the mind of the producers...

  2. I love how in all their numbers, you can count on them to dance in reverse, sort of a backing-up mambo.

    1. Given the state of play at Universal's B unit, I have a feeling that when it came time to film the numbers, the girls were more or less on their own...

  3. Discovering the sisters in my childhood left me feeling that I was (as the Poni-Tails put it) Born Too Late. This feeling intensified as I grew older and gayer and encountered more pop culture from earlier eras. 70 yrs later, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy still seems to get played at most weddings I attend. They really did do it brilliantly - better harmonizing than anyone before or since. We won't see their like again because few will work this hard, that long, to be so consistently great.

  4. Replies
    1. Survived by a grateful generation.