Those old enough to remember the peculiar phenomenon of The Lennon Sisters at all are apt to associate them almost entirely with The Lawrence Welk Show. They made their television debut there in 1955, and were regulars on the program through 1968. The sisters, Dianne (b.1939), Peggy (b.1941), Kathy (b. 1943), and Janet (b. 1946), were high school friends of Welk’s son. They secured an audition and Welk loved them so much he made them a key part of his show for over a dozen years. I call them “peculiar”, of course, because they were an extreme throwback to earlier times, the sort of sister act that had once characterized vaudeville and old time radio, although without the jazzy feeling that most pop groups had had even in those earlier eras. Their one major charting single, “Tonight You Belong to Me”, which went to #15 in 1956, was a 30 year old Billy Rose tune.
I need hardly remind you that this was the rock and roll era, which only got more and more extreme as the years rolled on. The girl groups of the late 50s and early 60s were acts like The Supremes and the Ronettes — groups with a beat, passion and attitude. Unlike similar throwback acts (The Osmonds are a good example) the Lennon Sisters never ventured into more contemporary sounds. They were what they were, a white, squeaky-clean quartet of white Catholic girls.
The Lennon Sisters were kids when they started out with Welk, and he always paid them union scale. By the late 60s, they were ready to break out. In 1969 they launched their own show, on which they co-starred with Jimmy Durante. The Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters Hour lasted only one season. Meantime, a tabloid-worthy tragedy struck the family. A deranged fan who was obsessed with Peggy murdered their father, shooting him to death at the golf course where he worked. The killer, a man named Chet Young, committed suicide before he was apprehended.
Despite these setbacks, the sisters soldiered on over the years, appearing on The Andy Williams Show, The Mike Douglas Show, Dinah!, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and other shows regularly through the end of the 1970s. Since then they have been primarily a live act. Yes, present tense. The Lennon Sisters are still a going concern, although two of the original sisters, Peggy and Dianne, have retired, and been replaced by their younger sister Mimi (b. 1955). And here’s another startling fact: two of the Lennon Sisters’ brothers and two of their cousins are members of a heavy metal band called Venice. Was this inspiration for Pat Boone’s late career style change?
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