The Boswell Sisters were a close harmony singing group, consisting of sisters Martha Boswell (June 9, 1905 – July 2, 1958), Connee Boswell (original name Connie) (December 3, 1907 – October 11, 1976), and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell (May 20, 1911 – November 12, 1988), noted for intricate harmonies and rhythmic experimentation. They attained national prominence in the USA in the 1930s. The sisters were raised by a middle-class family on Camp Street in uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. Martha and Connie were born in Kansas City, Missouri. Helvetia was born in Birmingham, Alabama. (Connee’s name was originally spelled Connie until she changed it in the 1940s.) They came to be well known in New Orleans while still in their early teens, making appearances in local theaters and radio. They made their first record for Victor Records in 1925. However, the Boswell Sisters did not attain national attention until they moved to New York City in 1930 and started making national radio broadcasts. After a few recordings with OKeh Records in 1930, they made numerous recordings for Brunswick Records from 1931-1935. These Brunswick records are widely regarded as milestone recordings of vocal jazz. Connee’s reworkings of the melodies and rhythms of popular songs, together with Glenn Miller’s arrangements, and New York jazz musicians (including The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Fulton McGrath, Joe Venuti, Arthur Schutt, Eddie Lang, Joe Tarto, Manny Klein, Dick McDonough, and Carl Kress), made these recordings unlike any others. Melodies were rearranged and slowed down, major keys were changed to minor keys (sometimes in mid-song) and rhythmic changes were par for the course. They were among the very few performers who were allowed to make changes to current popular tunes as during this era (music publishers and record companies pressured performers not to alter current popular song arrangements). Connee also recorded a series of more conventional solo records for Brunswick during the same period. The name of their 1934 song “Rock and Roll” as featured in the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round is an early use of the term. It is not one of their hotter numbers; it refers to “the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea”. By contrast, “Shout, Sister, Shout” (1931), written by Clarence Williams in 1929, does tend to foreshadow the rock genre, being described in one music magazine of 2011 as “by no means as archaic as its age”. The Boswell Sisters chalked up 20 hits during the 1930s including the number one record “The Object of My Affection” in 1935. (Of special note is their involvement in a handful of 12″ medley/concert recordings made by Red Nichols, Victor Young and Don Redman, as well as their 1934 recording of The Darktown Strutter’s Ball was which only issued in Australia.) During the early 1930s the Boswell Sisters, Three X Sisters, and Pickens Sisters were the talk of early radio female harmonizing. The Andrews Sisters started out as Boswell Sisters imitators. Young Ella Fitzgerald loved the Boswell Sisters and in particular idolized Connee, after whose singing style she patterned her own. In 1936, the group signed to Decca, but after just three records they broke up. The last recording was February 12, 1936. Connie Boswell continued to have a successful solo career as a singer for Decca. She later changed the spelling of her name from Connie to Connee in the 1940s, reputedly because it made it easier to sign autographs. Connee sang from a wheelchair – or seated position – during her entire career, due to an accident she suffered as a young child. When she tried to get involved with the overseas USO tours during World War II, she was not given permission to travel overseas due to her disability. Current groups The Pfister Sisters, Stolen Sweets, and Boswellmania, the French Puppini Sisters or the Italian trio Sorelle Marinetti continue to imitate the sisters’ recordings. The Ditty Bops have covered Boswell sisters songs in concert. In 2001, The Boswell Sisters, a major musical based on their lives, was produced at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California. The play starred Michelle Duffy, Elizabeth Ward Land, and Amy Pietz and was produced by the same team that produced Forever Plaid. The show was a hit with audiences and a critical success, but failed to be picked up for a much hoped-for Broadway run. The Boswell Sisters were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. At a ceremony covered by the Pfister Sisters, the Boswells were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
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