CONNIE, VET, AND MARTHA: SOUL SISTERS!

I’ve been thinking about Connie (or Connee) Boswell for the last few days.   This was one wonderful provocation, found on eBay.

I wasn’t around in the era when a pretty girl would come up to my / our table in a night club, take a flash picture of us, and return with copies — a great momento of an evening out.  But here’s a piece of paper that evokes that experience:

LOOK PLEASANT PLEASE! is always good advice, but this charming souvenir of days gone by has an even more important flip side:

Yes, Connie Bowell in 1942.  It would be impossible to look anything but pleasant if she were on the scene.

But my thoughts wandered to the larger question.  The Boswell Sisters were the most hip singing group on the planet — with deference to the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Andrews Sisters, and a long line of male and female singers, as inventive as they are.  But they aren’t as well-known as they should be.  In their time, they were admired and respected by the most innovative musicians in the business, including Bing Crosby and the Dorsey Brothers.  But the Sisters didn’t stay in the limelight for decades (they would have been astonishing on television every Sunday night).  Musically, they also present a paradox.  The casual listener, only mildly attentive, can say, “Oh, that’s another vocal group with a nice beat.”  But I think that the recordings and performances the Sisters left for us are so rich with information, with textures, that listeners find themselves overwhelmed: the music is too dense to be properly ingested as a pleasant background.

Consider this:

That performance swings as hard as anything recorded up to 1932: I would put it head-to-head with the Bennie Moten band or anything else you’d like to name.  Of course, the Sisters had several other things that made them less well-regarded than they might be.  They weren’t tragic; they were Caucasian; they were popular; they were women.

Connie Boswell went on to great success in the decades after the Sisters (Helvetia, “Vet,” and Martha) decided to retire from performing in 1936.  But she, too, suffered from the curse of being apparently stable and popular.  There was a more famous singer — her name was Ella Fitzgerald — who said she owed everything to Connee.  And Ella said it over and over to anyone who would listen.

Connie was one of the most soulful singers ever.  Her opening choruses are masterpieces of deep feeling and respect for the memory; her voice a thrill.  Her second choruses show what a superb improviser she was . . . straight from New Orleans but with her own deep swinging identity.

Consider this:

I don’t want to suggest that Connie, Vet, and Martha “suffered” — but I think in a society that didn’t insist its women singers be beddable, a world that didn’t see race or gender but just heard the music, they would be heroic figures today.  They had SOUL.

May your happiness increase.

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8 responses to “CONNIE, VET, AND MARTHA: SOUL SISTERS!

  1. You speak truth.

  2. I got to see Connee perform a full show at the Page One Ball back in the late 60′s. She worked from the piano and was dynamite!

  3. The “Crazy People” clip elicited hundreds of responses on YouTube. I especially like the ones from Boswell Sisters newbies. Here are a few of my favorites:

    “I really love that music… i don’t know why, I’m 15 years old!”

    “Wow! This is good. I’m 13 years and i think todays music industry sucks. If i ever be a singer, which i hope, then i would like to be like the boswell or andrews sisters. Not like todays talentless singers.”

    “Im in high school and i luv this and no one else does…”

    “This is much sexier than the music videos they make nowadays – because them girls who drag themselves nekked on the floor don’t nearly have as much talent, so you’re not gonna feel any affection towards them.”

    “what a cute song. i’m a really new bozzies fan, i mean i just literally got into them yesterday. i love that’s how rhythm was born and the object of my affection. and THIS.”

    “Damn, wish I was born 80 years earlier… incredible stuff and real musicians who can actually sing and aren’t just eye candy.”

    “i love this song sooooooo much and this is coming from a teenager, they sure sould rock it out for it being 1930 somethin’. But that connee sure could belt on out.”

    “I’m only 15 years old, but I love music like this.”

    “i cant hold back the tears. It is sad that beautiful music like this doesnt exist anymore. The music industry just goes down hill from year to year…..I will forever love the Boswell Sisters and the Andrews Sisters!!
    BTW…I aint old people. I am still young and only 23yrs old.”

    “Christ in Heaven this is the greatest two minutes of my life. This humbles all of rock n roll, it is so daamn funky. Jesus Joseph this could beat The Devil in a song contest.”

  4. Lovely piece. Agreed: Sisters had soul and depth, buoyancy and joy. High time to really “hear the music” of the Boswells. (I challenge anyone to listen to them sing “Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia” or “Everybody Loves My Baby” and see if they aren’t breathless!) Looking forward to meeting you, by the way.

  5. Ditto and likewise to the last sentence. I promise not to leave anyone breathless, though! May your happiness increase.

  6. Michael… Bravo! And what a joy to read the comments from the younger set that Stompy Jones sent! Just think, the Boswells’ worked their magic so many years ago… and it’s through recordings that they elicit such wonderful praise.today. Imagine what it must have been like to see them in person! Showmanship, class, divine talent–they had it all. And no need for fireworks or elaborate staging — just the three of them at the piano and a small backup band was production enough! Harmonious regards to one and all, David McCain

  7. I LOVES me YouTube nebvie comments!

  8. NEWBIE! not nebvie.

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