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William Buck

Blog Home > Main 
Published by: William Buck 20-Feb-13
'Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen', America, the Andrews Sisters, delivering a billion smiles when they were most needed.

 by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

Author's program note. You were just eighteen or so, away from home for the very first time. You were glad to do your bit; couldn't wait to get down to the high business at hand, a new minted citizen warrior proud to serve the Great Republic and save civilization. But it was cold at Union Station, the wooden bench was uncomfortable, and you suddenly realized you were smoking too much, way too much. Your mouth tasted of stale ashes and late nights of rambling conversations with people you didn't really like.
No train yet on Track Number Nine.
Worse, your train, the next step in your journey to destiny, wasn't due for hours. There was a long, lonely night ahead. Ma had known it would be this way and had packed you a box lunch, but it was almost gone now, demolished as you looked out the window and happened to see the name of the whistle-stop as it flashed by. Eldon, Iowa. Never heard of it... yet you were going to war to save the good folks of Main Street now dreamless in their beds, unaware their young paladin was swift passing by. 
She'd wrapped some of the sharp home-pickled kraut separately, under the wax paper. As she packed it she said, "Don't say it's 'kraut'. Some folks wouldn't understand and calling it 'liberty cabbage' just seems silly".  Ma always knew what to do.... you opened her handiwork. All of a sudden you missed her. Then you saw the glint of metal; it was a man with a staff, child on his shoulder, St. Christopher and then just five words in her copperplate hand, "Wear this for me, son".
As you put it on, you kissed it, just as you knew Ma had. Then did the night seem a little shorter, the bench less uncomfortable, and your fate less daunting.
There was one last thing in the box.  It was a medicine bottle, RX clearly marked. The label said, "Open as needed for immediate relief". Inside, on a slip of paper in your sister's childish scrawl, were these three words: Maxene, Patty, LaVerne. So you cracked a smile and ate the kraut, remembering you were just eighteen, on your way to glory, saviour of the Great Republic, and could dance like nobody's business.
America's sisters, bouncy, effervescent, fun on a date.
They were real Americans, which is to say their mother Olga was born Norwegian; their father Peter, a Greek immigrant who anglicized his name of Andreus when he arrived in America. Like every teen-ager of their era, they were glued to the radio, the breakthrough technology that brought the world and its latest sounds to kitchen tables everywhere, a world parents warned against, and you couldn't get enough of. 
One of the stars of this firmament was the Boswell Sisters, a singing act composed of three siblings whose sound and celebrity made the strongest possible impression on the younger Andrews sisters. Loving the tuneful Boswells as they did, the Andrews sisters, in the best American tradition, thought they could do better. After all the Boswells, stationary, glued to immobile microphone, sang huddled together, squishing each other in front of a piano, say. Thus they got their characteristic sound. But, the sisters Andrews knew, in the way of those adamant for success, they would fly higher... and soon.
But the Andrews trio, right from the very start didn't just want sound; they wanted action, movement, the chance to burn energy and dance the night away in astonishing gyrations and joy. As it happened America, emerging slowly from Great Depression was ready to dance, too, if only the right beat and raucous leaders could be found.
"It was like God had given us voices to fit our parts."
What do you do in the foul weather of snow-blown Minneapolis? If you're the Andrews Sisters you sing... anywhere, everywhere, even if the clueless could not hear in you the swing sound America was just learning to love. As Patty remarked in 1971, "There were just three girls in the family. LaVerne had a very low voice. Maxene's was kind of high, and I was in between." 
Studying the Boswell Sisters on the radio, LaVerne (born 1911) played the piano and taught her younger sisters to sing in harmony; neither Maxene (born 1916) nor Patty (born 1918) ever learned to read music. Maybe that was their unduplicable secret... 
In any event, after the sisters got their chores done at papa Peter's restaurant, they'd spend the evening studying singers at a local vaudeville house, singing along with bands coming from anywhere, almost all going to nowhere. But life in the Twin Cities wasn't all it was cracked up to be; wasn't what Peter had in mind when he first saw the Lady with the Torch the blissful morning he became an American. 
And so, greatly daring, he took the little he had and gambled it. Many folks did something similar... but they didn't travel with a gold-coining cultural icon, which the sisters would soon become. One wonders just when he looked at his beloved girls, filing their nails, experimenting with hair-dos and blush, giggling, gossiping about the boys they liked and the ones they didn't and knew? And so Peter Andrews brought his soon to be iconic daughters to New York, to the Statue of Liberty, one of the few things in America as immediately recognizable as they were about to become. Did he have an inkling yet? How proud he must have been.  "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen."
However, they were, just then, nowhere near such celestial honors. There was work to do, and a lot of it. As soon as they arrived in New York in 1937 Olga, in the tenacious tradition of determined stage mothers, made herself and her daughters known to every producer who would see her. It was often heavy going, "They sing too loud and they move too much," being amongst the kinder criticisms. Finally, Olga arranged for the sisters to sing on the radio with a hotel band at $15 a week. It was their first break... and it resulted in the break that mattered.. A Decca Records exec was beguiled and promptly signed them. Sadly, this smart scout's name has been long lost. It figures...  no good deed goes unpunished.
As for the sisters, they never looked back, particularly after their first big hit, "Bei Mir Bist Du Shoen" (1937), an old Yiddish song whose title means "To me, you are beautiful". Sammy Cahn and Saul  Kaplan wrote the lyrics. The sisters sang it to America... and America, particularly the dance crazed young, reciprocated with affection, enthusiasm and many tired, satisfied mornings after so many glorious nights before..
And so the greatest sister act in musical history was launched, just in time to go to war and show the world what an infectious beat delivered by three zealously upbeat girls, fresh, decent, wise-cracking with an acute case of the heebie jieebies could accomplish. That, of course, was everything... 
400 songs, 80,000,000 records.
Now came the fat years.... the years where they could do no wrong... the years when America took them to its heart... the years when hardened GIs at the front lines danced with each other whenever the astonishing sisters belted out a dance tune which insisted on crazy locomotion... the years when "our boys" far away from home, so lonely, broke down and cried when the sisters sang of love postponed, of fleeting kisses and embraces cut short by death, as happened so often to so many. Maxene, Patty and LaVerne lightened our loads... put a smile on our faces... and reminded us of just how good, how unselfish and generous we were.
"This too shall pass."
Of course it couldn't last... and didn't. The sisters got older, got married, got divorced... and said terrible things... about each other. Their cat fights made for sad listening,and, after father Peter died they listened only to their lawyers. Of course America paid attention; we can't get enough of such melt-downs; then we feel guilty that we took pleasure from the pains of the girls who had, just a moment ago, been our girls.
Norembega Park.
But their story cannot end on such a dismal note. I won't let it. And so I'll go back to the young man we encountered in Union Station, the one with stale ashes and kraut which could be eaten but never shown. After the war was over he decided to visit some of his buddies and see what they were up to. One of them lived in Boston, home of Norumbega Park, one of the nation's greatest dance clubs. He and his friend decided to take a flask and go, dancing the night away. And so they did... the girls polite, friendly, but not The One.
Then as the last dance was called, there she was... and as the band began he summoned all his courage and asked for the waltz with the girl he had waited a lifetime to hold in his arms. At their fiftieth wedding anniversary, they danced it just as they had back then... slow, eyes locked on each other, no need to recall the steps which were part of their DNA. The song was "I Can Dream, Can't I?". Of course, it was sung by the Andrews Sisters and its potent magic worked that night... as it always did.  
LaVerne died May 8, 1967; Maxene October 21, 1995;  Patty January 30, 2013.About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today. Republished with author's permission by William Buck <a href="http://123Webcast.com">http://123Webcast.com</a>. Check out Syndication Rockstar ->  http://www.123Webcast.com/?rd=qt47KfAt

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