The Andrews Sisters had gotten off to a great start with "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" and their following hits. But as WWII broke out, the Girls really came into their own. If Americans had needed the Girls during the Depression, they needed them even more now. With anxious audiences hanging on their every note, Patty, Maxene and LaVerne knew exactly what they had to do.
Swingin' with the Andrews Sisters (part 2)
Send them off with a smile and a song
As Americans at home went into overdrive to support their fighting troops abroad, so did the Andrews Sisters. If "we're all in this together" had to be the dominant mantra, Patty, Maxene and LaVerne did their best to boost enthusiasm for that mantra anywhere and everywhere. They broadened their venues to army camps, naval bases, USO centers, munitions factories and hospitals, often performing as many as 6 shows a day. At the height of WWII, they knew that GI Joes needed relief just as much as the average American civilian.
Maxene recalled of the war years:
If there was a dark side to those trying years, there was a bright side, too – a sense of national unity, real togetherness, a feeling so strong, so exhilarating and so unifying that it did more than help the country to survive. It helped us to win the war. The Andrews Sisters were right in the thick of all this, for the same reasons that millions of other entertainers were – because we wanted to be. We wanted to visit every USO club and military base and GI hospital we could find, both in the states and overseas. If we were on tour doing four and five shows a day, seven days a week, fifty weeks each year in cities all across the United States, we still found time to visit the service-men and –women. And when Patty, LaVerne and I went overseas for the USO, we often added four or five impromptu shows to our schedule every day, for any two or three soldiers who might ask us. (qtd. in Sforza, Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story 13. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000. Print.)
The enthusiasm the Andrews Sisters shared with their audiences made them (unsurprisingly) even bigger stars than before. GIs liked their songs so much that they started naming fighter planes and bombers after the titles. Officials demanded their presence at military departures. Even Hollywood took a keen interest in them, signing them on to perform in propaganda films like Buck Privates (1941) and Private Buckaroo (1942). Fans clamored for a spot in theaters to watch them. With a place on the stage, radio and big screen, the Girls were at the peak of their popularity.
In time, the Girls came to represent more than a cheery girl group: they represented America's positive national spirit during WWII. As writer William Ruhlmann observed:
If, after half a century, we still cannot think of the Andrews Sisters without remembering World War II, it may be because they continue to embody the positive national spirit called forth during that time. […] Just as a common enemy forced Americans to think of themselves as a unified whole, their pop music brought them together. It served to relieve them for a moment and renew them for the continuing struggle. (qtd. in Sforza 13-14)
That said, here are some of the songs that rallied American troops in those troubled times.
This is a fun song for kids; as bird-themed songs go, I personally find it catchier than "Rockin' Robin." Originally Italian.
Even though I previously included this in my WWII Week! (part 2) post, it's worth mentioning here, since it's one of the iconic hits of WWII. It was first introduced in the 1941 Abbott and Costello film Buck Privates, and is usually the first song that comes to mind when anyone thinks of the Andrews Sisters. Also, if you listen closely, you'll find that it sounds very similar to "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar" (see previous post).
3. "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)" (Hits of '42)
And NOW, the song you've all been waiting for!! "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was a key song for the Andrews Sisters. On one hand, it showed what entertaining performers they were - as the video clip from Private Buckaroo demonstrates.
On the other hand, while the song brought people together, it also brought bittersweet feelings with it. Maxene described one of the most memorable scenes associated with this song:
We went down to the docks during an appearance in Seattle and sang for the boys as their ship pulled away into the Pacific, headed for combat. At the request of military officials supervising the departure, we sang, " 'Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree.' The scene is still vivid in my memory. We stood down on the pier, looking up at all those young men leaning over the ship’s rails, waving and yelling and screaming. Any time that scene was reenacted, and it was happening countless times every day in groups large and small all over the country in 1942, one thought nagged at you: How many of the young men shipping out wouldn’t come back? I can still see the mothers and sweethearts standing on that dock and singing along with us as the ship sailed away to war. (qtd. in Sforza 85-86)
Next time: the end of war.
P.S. Although I included a video of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," I'm including an MP3 attachment as well if you just want to listen to the song.
*Photos courtesy of John Sforza, unless otherwise cited.