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Last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters dies

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 5:56 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the singing Andrews Sisters trio whose hits such as the rollicking “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and the poignant “I Can Dream, Can't I?” captured the home-front spirit of World War II, died Wednesday. She was 94.

Andrews died of natural causes at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge, said family spokesman Alan Eichler in a statement.

Patty was the Andrews in the middle, the lead singer and chief clown, whose raucous jitterbugging delighted American servicemen abroad and audiences at home.

She could also deliver sentimental ballads like “I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time” with a sincerity that caused hardened GIs far from home to weep.

From the late 1930s through the 1940s, the Andrews Sisters produced one hit record after another, beginning with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” in 1937 and continuing with “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” “Rum and Coca-Cola” and more. They recorded more than 400 songs and sold over 80 million records, several of them gold (over a million copies).

Other sisters, notably the Boswells, had become famous as singing acts, but mostly they huddled before a microphone in close harmony. The Andrews Sisters — LaVerne, Maxene and Patty — added a new dimension. During breaks in their singing, they cavorted about the stage in rhythm to the music.

Their voices combined with perfect synergy. 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 between. It was like God had given us voices to fit our parts.”

The Andrews's rise coincided with the advent of swing music, and their style fit perfectly into the new craze. They aimed at reproducing the sound of three harmonizing trumpets.

“I was listening to Benny Goodman and to all the bands,” Patty once remarked. “I was into the feel, so that would go into my own musical ability. I was into swing. I loved the brass section.”

Unlike other singing acts, the sisters recorded with popular bands of the '40s, fitting neatly into the styles of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, Guy Lombardo, Desi Arnaz and Russ Morgan. They sang dozens of songs on records with Bing Crosby, including the million-seller “Don't Fence Me In.” They also recorded with Dick Haymes, Carmen Miranda, Danny Kaye, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante and Red Foley.

The Andrews' popularity led to a contract with Universal Pictures, where they made a dozen low-budget musical comedies between 1940 and 1944. In 1947, they appeared in “The Road to Rio” with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

The trio continued until LaVerne's death in 1967. By that time the close harmony had turned to discord, and the sisters had been openly feuding.

Bette Midler's 1973 cover of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” revived interest in the trio. The two survivors joined in 1974 for a Broadway show, “Over Here!” It ran for more than a year, but disputes with the producers led to the cancellation of the national tour of the show, and the sisters did not perform together again.

Patty continued as a single, finding success in Las Vegas and on TV variety shows. Her sister also toured as a single until her death in 1995.

Her father, Peter Andrews, was a Greek immigrant who anglicized his name of Andreus when he arrived in America; his wife, Olga, was a Norwegian with a love of music. LaVerne was born in 1911, Maxine (later Maxene) in 1916, Patricia (later Patty, sometimes Patti) in 1918, though some sources say 1920.

Listening to the Boswell Sisters on radio, LaVerne played the piano and taught her sisters to sing in harmony; neither Maxene nor Patty ever learned to read music.

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