May 20 marks a most important occasion, the 105th birthday of most underappreciated of the three Boswell Sisters, Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, whose quiet disposition and propensity to avoid solos would lead to her later being remembered as (and I quote verbatim from a 1938 newspaper article) “the other sister.”
Helvetia George Boswell was born on May 20, 1911 in Birmingham, Alabama. Vet had the misfortune of entering this world around the time her sister Connie was afflicted with the ailment that left her completely paralyzed for a period of time, and without proper use of her legs for the rest of her life. Mother Meldania devoted most of her time in that period to Connie’s rehabilitation, and could not attend to the new (as yet unnamed) infant. The new Boswell baby was soon named Helvetia, after the condensed milk on which she was reared. In 1914, the Boswells moved to New Orleans, out of the cradle and into the cradle of jazz. When she started school, Helvetia was upset that the kids had nicknamed her “Hel”. Mother Boswell would have none of that, and from then on she was “Vet”. Later, her father came to call her “Iron Horse Vet”, and she was noted for her fondness for “pig sandwiches.” As her sisters Martha and Connie pursued their musical ambitions with vigor, Vet was along for the ride, supporting the sister act, though she preferred other artistic endeavors such as painting and drawing. Though she never took a solo part, she was an integral part of the harmony, and every bit as talented as her more gregarious older sisters.
After touring ’round the world and then some, Vet secretly married Texas oilman John Paul Jones in 1934. They would not make the marriage known until the next year. Vet’s marriage, combined with Martha’s soon after, created tension within the group surrounding the sisters ability to balance their professional and married lives, which was aggravated (and potentially incited) by their manager and Connie’s soon-to-be husband Harry Leedy. Tensions came to a head in 1936, and the group disbanded. Taking up residence in Ontario, and later on in New York, adjustment to home life was not easy for Vet, who found her new life as a housewife lonesome compared to show business. In 1936, she gave birth to her daughter, Vet Boswell Jones, or “Chica”. Vet never returned to the show business, though she had one final stage reunion with her sisters in 1955. Many years later, Vet made a celebrated homecoming to New Orleans. She passed away at the age of 77 in 1988, the last surviving and longest lived of the Boswell Sisters.
Brunswick 6291 was recorded March 21, 1932 in New York City. The Boswell Sisters are accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Mannie Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Babe Russin on tenor sax, Martha Boswell on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, Artie Bernstein on string bass, and Stan King on drums.
I carefully selected “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” for this occasion for one reason, it’s the only one I’m aware of that features anything resembling a solo vocal by Vet Boswell. She can be heard singing the line “you’ve got me in between…” If you want to hear a rare recording of Vet singing solo, I recommend picking up a copy of Their Music Goes Round and Round, featuring a rare home recording of Vet singing “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”, available at the official Boswell Sisters Store.
On the flip-side, the Bozzies perform one of their classic songs, the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”.