An era truly ended on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 when Patty Andrews, last surviving member of the beloved Andrews Sisters Trio, died of natural causes at the age of 94. The wonderful voices of Patty, and her sisters Maxene and LaVerne, helped millions of GIs survive the weariness and fear of World War II, and they were widely admired as America’s sweethearts. Often called the “greatest girl group of all time” by music critics, the sisters charted 90 hits as a trio and 12 more performing with the legendary Bing Crosby.
The Andrews Sisters performed with many of the most popular big band leaders of 1940s and 1950s including Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, and Tommy Dorsey. Famous for their tight harmonies and a swinging rhythm, the three sisters exhibited an air of exuberance and joy as they thrilled their audiences with their performances. Their hits included “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Rum and Coca Cola,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”
As their popularity increased, the Andrews Sisters appeared in 16 motion pictures. They survived the comic madness of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, performing as themselves in Road to Rio. The sisters provided soothing vocals and charm to contrast the manic genius of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, co-starring in Buck Privates and Hold that Ghost. They also appeared in popular wartime musical extravaganzas including Hollywood Canteen, Follow The Boys, and What’s Cookin’?.
Over a career that spanned several decades and three devastating wars, the sisters sold more than 75 million records. Musical tastes began to change in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the trio broke up in 1967 when LaVerne Andrews died of cancer. Patty managed some success with a solo career, and her older sister Maxene became Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College.
After almost a decade out of the public eye, The Andrews Sister’s experienced a brief return to popularity in the 1970s when a young Bette Midler had a major hit with her cover of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Patty and Maxene began to perform again as a duo, and the two sisters appeared on Broadway in 1974, starring in the Sherman Brothers’ nostalgic World War II musical, Over Here!. The play also launched the career of a little known actor by the name of John Travolta.
Sadly, the two surviving Andrews Sisters’ return to the spotlight dissolved into bitterness and financial disputes. Patty’s husband sued the producers of Over Here!, causing the cancellation of a major road tour and alienating Maxene. After the disappointment of the play, Patty and Maxene became distant and their estrangement lasted until Maxene’s death from a heart attack in 1995. They briefly reunited on October 1, 1987 for the dedication of the Trio’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but they never managed to reconcile.
Patty Andrews was born in Minneapolis to Peter Andreus (1884–1949) and Olga Andrews (1886–1948) on February 16, 1918. She was married twice and raised a step daughter, Pam Dubois. Patty’s first husband was Martin Melcher, who married an up and coming young actress named Doris Day after the divorce. Patty then married Walter Weschler, the trio’s pianist, in 1951. The couple enjoyed a successful 60 year marriage that ended with Walter’s death at 88 in 2010.
Bette Midler spoke for millions of Americans who knew and loved the Andrews Sisters and their music. Midler expressed her appreciation for their outstanding talent and their dedication to the nation:
“When I was a kid, I only had two records and one of them was the Andrews Sisters. They were remarkable. Their sound, so pure.
“Everything they did for our nation was more than we could have asked for. This is the last of the trio, and I hope the trumpets ushering (Patty) into heaven with her sisters are playing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”