LOS ANGELES — They were the swinging, sassy voice of the homefront for U.S. service personnel overseas during World War II, singing catchy hit tunes such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and “Rum and Coca Cola" that delighted Americans and catapulted the Andrews Sisters to the very top of the pop charts.
One of the most successful female recording groups in pop history, the sisters — LaVerne, Maxene and Patty Andrews — became a beloved American institution, lifting the nation’s spirits during a conflict whose outcome seemed often in doubt.
When the war ended in 1945, it was even the Andrews Sisters who announced it, to 5,000 GIs during a USO concert in Italy as the men were heading for duty in the Pacific. 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," her sister Maxene said years later. “Then Patty repeated the message. ‘This is really true,’ she told them, and then she started to cry. Suddenly there was a roar. They knew they would be going home, and they did."
Patty Andrews, the group’s lead singer and its last surviving member, died Wednesday of natural causes at her longtime home in the San Fernando Valley city of Northridge, according to her attorney, Richard Rosenthal. She was 94. Maxene, the middle Andrews sister, died in 1995 and LaVerne, the eldest, in 1967.
The Andrews Sisters began singing professionally in 1932, when Patty was just 14, and scored their first major success in 1938 with an English version of the Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bist du Schon" (or “To me, you’re grand," as the sisters put it.) The song zoomed to No. 1 and 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," “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," “Rhumboogie," “Shoo-Shoo Baby," “Strip Polka," and “I Can Dream, Can’t I?"
Two of their biggest wartime singles were the Caribbean-influenced “Rum and Coca Cola" and “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time," one of their rare ballads.
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, among them Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Carmen Miranda.
They appeared as themselves in more than a dozen movies, including the Abbott and Costello comedies “Buck Privates" and “In the Navy," both released in 1941, and the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour film “Road to Rio" in 1947."
In 1973, long after their music had faded from the scene, the Andrews Sisters enjoyed a remarkable resurgence with the release of Bette Midler’s version of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," which brought them a new generation of fans.