Today is the birthday of Connee Boswell, who, along with her sisters Martha (1905-58), and Helvetia (1909-88) made up one of the most innovative and popular vocal groups of the 1930s. The girls were all classically trained musicians who were also influenced by the evolving jazz music of their native New Orleans. Each could play numerous instruments as well as sing. Connie (who changed her name to Connee in the 40s so it would be easier to sign autographs) was paralyzed from age 3 and always performed sitting down. They began performing in small time vaudeville, local clubs and radio in 1923, and developed a local following in their home town. In 1930, they moved to New York, and began playing big time vaudeville and presentation houses, and national radio. They made a number of innovative records with the top jazz musicians of the day. (One intriguing fact: they recorded a song called “Rock and Roll” in 1934, one of the first verifiable uses of the term.) In the mid 30s, Martha and “Vet” quit to get married and Connee went solo. A short career, but a highly influential one, was that of the Boswell Sisters.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including sister acts like the Boswell Singers, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.