The Andrews Sisters: America's soundtrack to WWII


The Andrews Sisters: Maxene, Patty and Laverne.
The Andrews Sisters: Maxene, Patty and Laverne. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This story is a bonus feature of The Current Rewind, the podcast putting music's unsung stories on the map.

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Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne Andrews grew up in Minnesota as daughters of Greek and Norwegian immigrants. Just a few decades after their parents relocated to the U.S., the Andrew Sisters became a key cultural representation of patriotism and hope during WWII.

The Andrews Sisters performed for troops at United Service Organizations (USO) showcases around the world, and they released peppy songs about soldiers' experiences, such as 1941's "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." The song, which tells the story of a virtuosic musician who becomes drafted into the U.S. Army, became one of the Andrews Sisters' signature hits.

"When I grew up, all there was on the radio — there were no televisions, of course — the radio was on 24 hours a day, and it was all news," said Andrews Sisters historian Tom Rockvam. "The only time it broke was news about WWII. And the only time that changed was the six or eight times a day that the Andrews Sisters sang. That was such a relief, to hear music."

"They are iconic," said Lynda Wells, longtime companion of Maxene Andrews. "You look at them saluting in their uniforms from a film, and you're just transported back to a time in which — Maxene's quote is, 'It was as if everyone in the U.S. was holding each other's hands.'"

In the 1940s, The Andrews Sisters starred in a number of wartime films, including Buck Privates and In the Navy (both 1941), as well as the musical comedies Private Buckaroo (1942), What's Cookin'? (1942), and Swingtime Johnny (1943). Here is a look at some of the iconic Andrews Sisters songs that soundtracked WWII:

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"

"Apple Blossom Time" from Buck Privates (1941)

"(There'll Be a) Hot Time in the Town of Berlin" with Bing Crosby

"Gimme Some Skin" from In the Navy (1941)

"Three Little Sisters"

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)" from Private Buckaroo (1942)

"There'll Be a Jubilee"

Through their music, the Andrews Sisters became a symbol of a slice of American history. But the Andrews Sisters did more than just sing about history — they had their hand in writing it as well.

Before one of their performances for U.S. troops in Naples, Patty was handed a slip of paper. Maxene told NPR that Patty "opened up this piece of paper, and she looked at it, and then she started to cry. And she said, 'Boys, the note reads here — the war with Japan is over.'"

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