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The Bugle Boy Is Blowin’ Taps

Feb 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 21
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If anyone doubts that fame can be fleeting, The Scrapbook recommends the January 31 edition of the New York Times where, on page A17, may be found an obituary for Patty Andrews, the last surviving Andrews Sister of musical fame, who died in Los Angeles, two weeks shy of her 95th birthday. 

The Andrews Sisters

To be sure, the Andrews Sisters broke up a half-century ago, and a majority of their fans (The Scrapbook would guess) preceded Patty Andrews in death. But the Sisters did sell 75 million records in their day, dominated the pop music charts for more than a decade, and in their distinctive three-part harmony, introduced any number of huge hits—“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B),” “Rum & Coca-Cola,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”—that define the popular music of the World War II era. 

For that reason, above all, The Scrapbook was a little surprised to note that the end of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock was noted on the front page of the Times, but that Patty Andrews’s death was not—nor was it mentioned on the page-two “Inside the Times” feature, which highlighted stories about the fashion world’s fear of the flu and a thrifty Chicagoan who sublets two apartments while sleeping in a closet. 

The Scrapbook is a little disheartened as well. The Andrews Sisters were not necessarily the best pop vocal trio of all time—indeed, they patterned their distinctive style on the pioneering, jazz-oriented Boswell Sisters—and other singers of the day (Bing Crosby, for instance) sold more records. But the Andrews Sisters are best remembered for their service during World War II, entertaining troops all over the globe, at a time when show business was almost wholly mobilized in the struggle against the Axis.

It’s been a while since anything like that has happened. During the Vietnam war, apart from Bob Hope, you could count the number of performers who entertained the troops on one hand. And things only marginally improved in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Second World War, however, it would have been tough to find any actor, singer, dancer, or comedian who didn’t do his part—and the war produced its own set of stars (Jo Stafford, Glenn Miller, Martha Raye, Bob Hope) who found particular favor with the men in uniform. 

For them, Patty Andrews and her sisters were first among equals. Dressed in their faux uniforms, selling war bonds, touring tirelessly in every major theater of war, the Andrews Sisters’ syncopated sound and nimble lyrics reminded the troops of the lives they had left behind—and, of course, why they were fighting.

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