Brunswick 6162 – Connie Boswell – 1931

We’ve celebrated the anniversary of the incomparable Miss Connie Boswell’s birth several times before here on Old Time Blues, but this time around it’s particularly significant, for it’s her 110th birthday.  Likewise, this is a particularly significant record for the occasion: Connie’s first solo record (excepting her early 1925 straggler).

Connie Boswell around 1932.

Connie was born Constance Foore Boswell—taking her middle name from her mother’s maiden name—in Kansas City, Missouri on December 3, 1907, the third of the Boswell children, and the middle Boswell sister.  They relocated to Birmingham when Connie was about three years old, and it was there where she suffered the incident that would leave her crippled, most likely by a bout of infantile paralysis, though her mother claimed it was the result of an accident involving a toy wagon.  In any event, she was left completely incapacitated, yet in spite of adversity, Connie recovered, even being able to stand up and walk after a fashion for a time, though she would later rely on a wheelchair.  Soon after the accident, the Boswells packed up and moved to New Orleans, where the children were exposed to—and became a part of—the genesis of jazz.

The three Boswell Sisters became a popular musical act around town, singing harmony and playing instruments; when the Victor Talking Machine Company made their first field trip to Houston and New Orleans, the Boswells made their first record.  Several years later, after some setbacks, the trio left for Chicago to embark on a vaudeville tour.  Eventually, they wound up in California, where they settled for a time in Los Angeles and became popular radio personalities.  Then a young hotel clerk they’d met and befriended in a seedy joint in San Francisco—Harry Leedy—came to visit and convinced them to take him on as their manager, and later Connie’s husband.  He succeeded in getting them a contract with Brunswick, and they traveled to New York to make records.  But in spite of his successful management of the trio, Leedy believed that Connie was the only sister with a lick of talent, and that the other two were essentially superfluous.  He pushed for Connie to do more solo work, which she did, and he positioned her to take more leading vocals on the Sisters’ records.  Ultimately, it’s likely that Leedy contributed considerably to the tensions that resulted in the Boswell Sisters 1936 breakup.

After the disintegration of the trio, Connie’s career fell into a bit of a slump, but her runaway swing hit of von Flotow’s “Martha” brought fast to the spotlight.  Throughout the remainder of the 1930s, and into the ’40s, she remained one of the most popular singers in the nation, duetting frequently with Bing Crosby.  She made a number of noteworthy film appearances in It’s All Yours and Artists and Models in 1937, the latter which saw her sing the Academy award nominated “Whispers in the Dark”, Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1941, Syncopation in 1942, and Swing Parade of 1946.  Around 1942, she altered the spelling of her name to “Connee”, stating that it was easier to sign, but also possibly due to numerological reasons recommended by her sister Martha.  In the years following the Second World War, Connee Boswell’s career began to slow down, and she took a hiatus from her long time association with Decca Records in 1946.  The following year, she made two records for Apollo, and then quieted down for a five year stretch.  In 1952, Connee made a triumphant return to Decca, accompanied by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, but her voice was beginning to sound noticeably hoarse in her mid-forties.  Nonetheless, she continued making records and television appearances on programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show through the decade, concluding with her final album in 1958.  Also in ’58, she made an appearance in the movie Senior Prom, and took a recurring role as “Savannah Brown” in the television adaptation of Pete Kelly’s Blues.  Slowing down in the 1960s, Connee made two rock ‘n’ roll-esque 45s for the Charles label in 1962, her last commercial records.  After a fairly quiet decade, Connee Boswell died of stomach cancer on October 12, 1976.

Brunswick 6162 was recorded around July 27, 1931 in New York City.  Connie Boswell is accompanied more-or-less by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Manny Klein on trumpet, on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Harry Hoffman on violin, sister Martha Boswell on piano, Dick McDonough on guitar, Joe Tarto on string bass, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums and vibraphone.

First, Connie sings an upbeat composition by the Harries Tobias and Barris, “What is It?”, with a little swinging going on in the background.

What is It?, recorded July 27, 1931 by Connie Boswell.

Next, Connie sings the lovely “I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart”, a song which, much like Russ Columbo’s “You Call it Madness”, is truly evocative of its era.

I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart, recorded July 27, 1931 by Connie Boswell.

Victor 19639 – Connie Boswell/Boswell Sisters – 1925

In 1925, the Boswell Sisters had made quite a name for themselves in their hometown of New Orleans.  Three years prior, they had won a talent contest for WAAB radio, which earned them a three day gig at the Palace Theatre.  They were regularly engaged around town, particularly at functions of the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club, whose promotive director had taken a shine to the Bozzies.  It was a YMGC function where the sisters were noticed by vaudeville headliners Van and Schenck, who were at the time playing at the Orpheum.  They loved the Boswells’ act, and promised to pull some strings in their favor when they returned to New York.  Very soon after that, they cut their first record.  E.T. King of the Victor Talking Machine Company was in town with mobile recording equipment, just in from Houston on the first such “field trip” they ever made (though not the first recording session held in New Orleans).  The Boswell Sisters were the first artists to record for Victor in New Orleans, they cut three sides, “You Can Call Me Baby All the Time”, “I’m Gonna Cry (The Cryin’ Blues)”, and “Pal o’ Mine” on March 22, 1925, followed by “Dad” and “Nights When I Am Lonely” on the 25th.  Only two of those five were issued.  Other artists to record on the historic New Orleans field trip were Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.  Reportedly the Boswells’ record was mistaken for a “race” record, and as a result kept out of many record stores.  Nonetheless, the sisters were eager to head to Camden and cut a few more, though fate held them in New Orleans until 1928.

Victor 19639 was recorded on March 22 and 25, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  These recordings were made acoustically, shortly before Victor commenced mainstream electrical recording (though they had made several prior to these).  It is the Boswell Sisters first record, as well as their only record made in the 1920s.

Tragically, this record arrived in my possession broken in three pieces, the result of incompetent packing (one of the worst jobs I’ve ever seen), and can be seen on the “wall of shame” on Old Time Blues’ guide to packing 78s.  I couldn’t allow a record this rare and this great to remain in pieces however, so I set about repairing it.  After warming up by repairing two other broken discs, I carefully lined up the grooves, setting the pieces as tightly together as possible, and superglued the edges and run-out to hold it together.  Fortunately, it tracked, and played with clicks.  After transferring, I painstakingly removed every click the cracks caused, and equalized out the rest of the thumps.  The end result exceeded my every expectation of what this broken record could sound like.  A few slight clicks still remain, but I believe you’ll find that it sounds quite clean, all things considered (seeing as it has the equivalent of four cracks to the label in it).

First, in the style of her idol Mamie Smith, seventeen-year-old Connie belts out “I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues)”, accompanied on piano by her sister Martha.  Young Vet joins in later on to help Connie vocally imitate a hot instrumental break.

I'm Gonna Cry (Cryin' Blues)

I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues), recorded March 22, 1925 by Connie Boswell.

Next, all the sisters join in on “Nights When I Am Lonely”, which features the Bozzies’ trademark style of scat known as “-ggling” (that’s pronounced “gulling”).  On this side, they are accompanied on piano by Vitaly Lubowski, who had recorded the previous day with Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys.

Nights When I Am Lonely

Nights When I Am Lonely, recorded March 25, 1925 by the Boswell Sisters.

Brunswick 6291 – The Boswell Sisters – 1932

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

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.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

On the flip-side, the Bozzies perform one of their classic songs, the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”.

There'll Be Some Changes Made

There’ll Be Some Changes Made, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

Brunswick 6847 – The Boswell Sisters – 1931/1932

This website needs more Boswell Sisters.  It’s going into its sixth month of existence and still only has one article featuring the Boswells.  That simply won’t do.  After all, it was the Boswell Sisters that dragged the center of my interests back from the 1940s and 1950s into the 1920s and 1930s, and they’ll always have a special place in my heart.  To remedy this unacceptable omission, here are two of the Boswells’ finest sides, one of my favorite records.

Brunswick 6847 was recorded on two separate occasions, the first side was recorded December 7, 1932, and the second was recorded earlier, April 23 (my birthday), 1931, both sides in New York City.  The first side “Crazy People” features only a rhythm backing by Dick McDonough on guitar and Artie Bernstein on string bass, along with Martha Boswell on piano.  The flip side, “Shout, Sister, Shout” features a truly all-star accompaniment directed by Victor Young, including either Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Joe Venuti on violin, Arthur Schutt on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums and vibraphone.

Although the Boswells’ rendition of Edgar Leslie and James V. Monaco’s “Crazy People” was recorded in 1932, a few months after the sisters filmed their performance of the song for The Big Broadcast, it was not given a record issue until this one in 1934.

Crazy People, recorded December 7, 1932 by The Boswell Sisters.

Crazy People, recorded December 7, 1932 by The Boswell Sisters.

The Boswells’ classic performance of Clarence Williams’ “Shout, Sister, Shout” on the other hand was issued originally on Brunswick 6109 in 1931, and again issued on Brunswick 6783, before this issue in 1934.

Shout, Sister, Shout, recorded April 23, 1931 by The Boswell Sisters.

Shout, Sister, Shout, recorded April 23, 1931 by The Boswell Sisters.