The Boswell Sisters

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The Boswell Sisters
Boswell Sisters 1931.jpg
From left: "Vet", Connie and Martha in 1931
Background information
Born Martha: (1905-06-09)June 9, 1905
Connee: (1907-12-03)December 3, 1907
Helvetia: (1911-05-20)May 20, 1911
Origin New Orleans, United States
Died Martha: July 2, 1958(1958-07-02) (aged 53)
Connee: October 11, 1976(1976-10-11) (aged 68)
Helvetia: November 12, 1988(1988-11-12) (aged 77)
Genres Vocal jazz
Years active 1925–1936
Labels Victor Records, Okeh, Brunswick, Decca
Past members Martha Boswell
Connee Boswell
Helvetia Boswell

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.

Early life[edit]

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. The trio had a program on CBS from 1931 to 1933.[1]

After a few recordings for OKeh Records, recorded in Los Angeles 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; 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 phrase, but it refers to "the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea". It is not one of their hotter numbers. By contrast, "Shout, Sister, Shout" (1931), written by Clarence Williams and featured in the show Boardwalk Empire (S5:E5) 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".[2] 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 Darktown Strutters' Ball which was 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.

Later groups the Pfister Sisters, the Stolen Sweets, Boswellmania, the Puppini Sisters, YazooZazz, the Spanish group O Sister!, the Italian trio Sorelle Marinetti, and the Israeli band the Hazelnuts imitated the sisters' recordings. Canada's Company B Jazz Band has many Boswell Sisters arrangements in their repertoire, and even created a set saluting the Boswells' appearance in Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round for the cover of their second album, Rock & Roll. The Ditty Bops have covered Boswell Sisters songs in concert. Caffeine Trio from Brazil, also claims to have been influenced by them. There is also an Australian group called "The Boswell Project" based in Adelaide, South Australia.

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.

In 2014, Vet's daughter and granddaughter published "The Boswell Legacy", the first comprehensive book on the life and times of this influential group.

Hit singles[edit]

Year Single Chart positions
1931 "When I Take My Sugar to Tea" 6
"Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On" 7
"I Found a Million Dollar Baby" 3
"It's the Girl" 9
"(With You On My Mind I Find) I Can't Write the Words" 20
"Gems from George White's Scandals" 3
"An Evening in Caroline" 12
1932 "Was That the Human Thing to Do?" 7
"Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon (My Man's Gone)" 14
"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" 13
1934 "Coffee in the Morning (Kisses in the Night)" 13
"You Oughta Be in Pictures (My Star of Stars)" 17
"Rock and Roll" 7
1935 "The Object of My Affection" 1
"Dinah" 3
"Alexander's Ragtime Band" 9
"St. Louis Blues" 15
"Cheek to Cheek" 10
1936 "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" 3
1938 "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (re-issue) 4


  1. ^ Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. P. 110.
  2. ^ Ches Ko of Auckland, New Zealand, quoted in Mojo, November 2011. Williams recorded the song himself in 1931.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories: 1890-1954. Record Research. 

External links[edit]