Patty Andrews, last of the famed sisters, dies

  • Article by: REBECCA TROUNSON , Los Angeles Times
  • Updated: January 31, 2013 - 9:50 AM

The Minnesota-born trio's voices and good cheer encouraged the nation during the dark days of World War II. Later in life, the two surviving sisters were estranged.

The Minnesota-born Andrews sisters were the swinging, sassy voice of the home front for Americans during World War II, lifting the nation's spirits with catchy tunes such as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Rum and Coca Cola."

When the war ended in 1945, the Andrews Sisters announced it to 5,000 Pacific-bound GIs during a USO concert in Italy. The troops' commanding officer had interrupted the show, handing the women a note that was read aloud by the youngest, Patty Andrews. "At first there was dead silence," Maxene said. "Then Patty repeated the message. 'This is really true,' she told them. ... Suddenly there was a roar."

Patty Andrews died Wednesday at her longtime home in Northridge, Calif. She was 94. Maxene, the middle sister, died in 1995 and LaVerne, the oldest, in 1967.

The Andrews Sisters began singing professionally in 1932, when Patty was 14, and scored their first major success in 1938 with an English version of the Yiddish song "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen." The song made them overnight stars.

Known for their close, three-part harmonies, full-throated delivery and humor on stage, they churned out hit after hit, including "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Beer Barrel Polka," "Hold Tight, Hold Tight," "Rhumboogie," "Shoo-Shoo Baby," "Strip Polka" and "I Can Dream, Can't I?" Two of their biggest wartime singles were "Rum and Coca Cola" and "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time."

From 1938 to 1951, they had 19 gold records, dozens of top 10 singles and record sales of nearly 100 million. They performed and recorded with the biggest stars of their day.

In 1973, long after their music had faded from the scene, the Andrews Sisters enjoyed a resurgence with the release of Bette Midler's version of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." The following year, the two surviving Andrews sisters were a hit all over again, starring on Broadway in the nostalgic World War II musical "Over Here."

Patty Andrews was born in Mound in 1918, to Olga Sollie Andrews, a Norwegian-American, and Peter Andrews, a Greek immigrant who came to Minneapolis in 1910, then moved to Mound in 1920 to be near Olga's relatives. Four years later, the family moved back to Minneapolis when Peter opened a restaurant there.

According to a 2002 Star Tribune story, Peter, gruff and ill-tempered, resisted his daughters going into show business, while Olga encouraged them. In the 1930s, as their father's business foundered, the girls dropped out of school and went on the road to help support their family.

They made their way to New York, where Decca Records offered them a contract to make four singles at $50 apiece. One was "Nice Work If You Can Get It," which went nowhere. But on the flip side was "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," which launched them into stardom.

The sisters' private relationship was often troubled. Music industry insiders blamed it on a dispute between Maxene and Patty's husband, Walter Weschler, the group's conductor, who died in 2010. The sisters saw each other just twice after 1974 -- after Maxene suffered a heart attack in 1982, and at the 1987 dedication of their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Patty blamed it on Maxene. "Ever since I was born, Maxene has been a problem," she said.

Patty's first marriage, to agent Martin Melcher, ended in divorce in 1950 when he left her for Doris Day. She married Weschler in 1951. She has no immediate survivors.

Staff writer Graydon Royce contributed to this report.

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