SWING IT! by John Sforza


The Andrews Sisters Story
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Sforza attempts to examine the songs and success of the legendary Andrews Sisters, the vocal trio who in the 1940s rivaled crooners Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra as the most popular musical act in America. The Andrews Sisters (Maxene, LaVerne, and Patty) enjoyed a phenomenal run of success, from their 1937 hit “Bei Mir Bist Du Schîn” through their first breakup in 1953. During that time they placed over 100 songs on the Billboard magazine charts; headlined New York’s Paramount Theater (then the mecca of performing that Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden are today) more often than any other act; had their own radio show, The Andrews Sisters Show; and became motion picture stars (appearing in multiple pictures with Abbott & Costello, among others). As the numbers prove, they clearly were at the pinnacle of the show-business world. Unfortunately, Sforza relies almost exclusively on those numbers, which could be extracted from any number of sources, to tell their story. And given the legendary fighting among the three, Maxene’s controversial marriage to manager Lou Levy (who charged the sisters’ father, Olga, with threatening his life, largely because of anti-Semitism), and their various health problems, there is much more to the Andrews Sisters’ story than the numbers. Sforza makes some attempt to delve into these issues, but he is foiled by his lack of access to new first-hand evidence, for which he substitutes old newspaper articles, gossip reports, magazine stories, previously published interviews, whatever he can get his hands on. Nor does Sforza come across as a passionate fan. Instead of injecting his own voice, he is content with dry recitation: “The trio headlined at the Paramount with Mitchell Ayres and his orchestra during the summer months of 1943. . . . The trio then became series regulars on CBS’ s The Roma Wines Show, starring Mary Astor. . . . The trio’s last record release of the year was ‘Shoo Shoo Baby,’ which made Billboard’s top-ten list for sixteen weeks.” In such by-the-yard passages, Sforza seems to forget he’s writing about big-band music a generation of fans considered lively and fun. Given his lack of access to new material, and his lack of enthusiasm for the group, one wonders why Sforza even picked the Andrews Sisters as his subject matter. (28 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8131-2136-1
Page count: 332pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999