Connie Boswell

Constance Foore “Connee” Boswell (December 3, 1907, Kansas City, Missouri – October 11, 1976, New York) was an American female vocalist born in Kansas City but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. With her sisters, Martha and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, she performed in the 1930s as The Boswell Sisters and became a highly influential singing group during this period via recordings and radio. Connee herself is widely considered one of the greatest jazz female vocalists and was a major influence on Ella Fitzgerald who said, “My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it….I tried so hard to sound just like her.”[1]

Connie Boswell and the Victor Young Orchestra, “Blue Moon” 1935

In 1936, Connee’s sisters retired and Connee continued on as a solo artist (having also recorded solos during her years with the group).

The Boswells came to be well known locally while still in their early teens, making appearances in New Orleans theaters and radio. They made their first recordings for Victor Records in 1925, which included “Cryin’ Blues” where Connee is featured singing in the style of her early influence, the African American singer Mamie Smith. The Boswell Sisters became stage professionals that year when they were tapped to fill in for an act at New Orleans’ Orpheum Theatre. They received an invitation to come to Chicago and perform in 1928 and honed their act on the Western Vaudeville Circuit. When their tour ended they traveled to San Francisco. The hotel that had been recommended had a less than savory reputation, and the man at the desk suggested that these three young ladies might be better off in another hotel. That man, Harry Leedy, would later become their manager on a handshake and become a permanent part of Connee’s life.

1931 -“I’m All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart”

The Boswell Sisters travelled to Los Angeles where they performed on local radio and “side-miked” for the soundies, including the 1930 production “Under Montana Skies.” They did not attain national attention, however, until they moved to New York City in 1930 and started making national radio broadcasts. After a few recordings with Okeh Records, they made numerous recordings for Brunswick Records from 1931-1935. In 1935, the sisters had a #1 hit with “The Object of My Affection“, the biggest of twenty top 20 records they would enjoy.

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”

In 1936, the group signed to Decca Records and after just three releases called it quits (the last recording was February 12, 1936). Connee Boswell continued to have a successful solo career as a singer for Decca.

All through her career with The Boswell Sisters, and well into the 1940s, her name was spelled “Connie”. She later changed the spelling to Connee, reputedly because it made it easier to sign autographs.

Connee Boswell was also an arranger (the Boswell Sisters harmony arrangements are hers) and a composer.

Connee sang from a wheelchair – or seated position – during her entire career, due to either a childhood bout with polio or a childhood accident (sources differ). The general public was not aware of her condition although Boswell herself did not keep this secret. During World War II, she tried to get involved with the U.S.O. tours but was not given permission to travel overseas. The Army thought it might not be a morale-booster to have a singer who used a wheelchair perform for the troops.

“I’ll Get By”

Connee Boswell was a favorite duet partner of Bing Crosby and they frequently sang together on radio as well as recording several hit records as a duo in the 1930s and 1940’s. Boswell, Crosby, and Eddie Cantor recorded a version of Alexander’s Ragtime Band that was a #1 hit in 1938.In 1939, Crosby and Boswell had three hit duet records that each climbed into the top 12 on Billboard; “An Apple For The Teacher” climbed all the way to #2.

“Its The Talk Of The Town”

Boswell also had several dozen solo hits, including “Moonlight Moon” in 1942. Boswell’s career slackened in the 1950s but she still recorded occasionally and would be featured on a number of television broadcasts including a regular stint on the 1959 series “Pete Kelly’s Blues”.

Connee Boswell died from stomach cancer at age 68 in 1976, in New York. A number of her recordings are now available on CD, both as a soloist and part of the Boswell Sisters.

“Stardust”

Sources: Wikiepedia, youtube, imdb.com

The Boswell Sisters

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.

“Cheek To Cheek”

They 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.)

“Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter”

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. After a few recordings with Okeh Records 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 ingenious reworkings of the melodies and rhythms of popular songs, together with Glenn Miller’s hot arrangements, and first rate 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 as 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.

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”

The name of their 1934 song “Rock and Roll” is an early use of the term. It is not one of their hotter numbers; it refers to “the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea”.

In 1936, the group signed to Decca and after just 3 records, 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 1940’s, reputedly because it made it easier to sign autographs. (It’s interesting to note that Connee sang from a wheelchair – or seated position – during her entire career, due to an accident she suffered as a young child. Amazingly, when she tried to get involved with the overseas U.S.O tours. during World War II, she was not given permission to travel overseas due to her disability.)

“Sleepy Time Down South”

The Boswell Sisters chalked up 20 hits during the 1930s including the number one record “The Object of My Affection” in 1935.

During the early 1930’s 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.

Current groups The Pfister Sisters, Stolen Sweets, and Boswellmania, or the Italian trio Sorelle Marinetti continue to imitate the sisters’ recordings. The Ditty Bops have covered Boswell sisters songs in concert.

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.

Solo Hit recordings For Connie Boswell

Year Single Chart positions
US
1932 “Say It Isn’t So” 10
1934 “Isn’t It a Shame” 19
1935 “Moon Over Miami” 19
1936 “On the Beach At Bali Bali” 3
1937 “Whispers In the Dark” 9
“Bob White (Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight?)”(with Bing Crosby) 1
“Basin Street Blues”(with Bing Crosby) 12
1938 “Fare Thee, Honey, Fare Thee Well” 11
“I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” 5
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”(with Bing Crosby) 1
“Simple and Sweet” 12
1939 “An Apple For Teacher”(with Bing Crosby) 2
“Start the Day Right”(with Bing Crosby) 12
“At Least You Could Say Hello” 14
1940 “Between 18th & 19th On Chestnut Street”(with Bing Crosby) 12
“On the Isle of May” 3
“Let’s Be Buddies” 25
1941 “Sand In My Shoes” 24
“I’ll Keep On Loving You” 22
1942 “South Wind” 21
“Moonlight Mood” 22
“Why Don’t You Fall In Love With Me” 21
1946 “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” 9
“Who Told You That Lie?” 22
“Ole Buttermilk Sky” 14
1948 “You Were Meant For Me” 19
1952 “My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue” 25
1953 “Singin’ the Blues” 27
“Main Street On Saturday Night” 29
“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” 29
1954 “The Philadelphia Waltz” 30
“If I Give My Heart To You” 10
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