Find of the Week: The Boswell sisters took New Orleans music to the national airwaves

News with a Twist
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NEW ORLEANS -- News with a Twist has teamed up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you a unique find each week from the museum's vaults.

This week, we take you back to the golden age of radio to meet three sisters who took New Orleans-inspired music across national airwaves.

"They are radio stars of the golden age of radio.  They are born all over the country.  Their father is a traveling salesmen and they're moving constantly until they  get to New Orleans, in the early 1900s," said Malinda Blevins, visitor services interpretive assistant for the HNOC.

The Boswell sisters lived at 3937 Camp Street. At 20, 18 and 14 years old, their vocal harmonies and personalities were unmatched -- a product of culturally rich New Orleans.

And they could play musical instruments, too. Connie, who was in a wheelchair, was given a saxophone as a form of musical therapy.

"Their mother has them practicing and going to private music lessons.  They are going to the midnight follies, the plays where the white people could go and listen to African-American music. They then start getting real gigs, and playing at the Orpheum and at the French Opera House," Blevins explained.

One day, their father returned home to find his girls had a radio contract. From there, it was Vaudeville acts and radio hits in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. They even got to work with Bing Crosby.

On July 21, 1931, they performed on the first television broadcast on CBS.

"Their sheet music would sell out immediately.  Any records they did would sell out immediately because they were just that popular," Blevins said.

The influenced the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler and the Andrew sisters, who picked up where the Boswell sisters left off.

"Within 10 years their career is over," Blevins said. "They have traveled through Europe with the greats and traveled all over the country, and by 1936 on the eve of WWII, they end.  They all get married and go their separate ways."

Seven years ago, records, soundtracks and even Connie's wheelchair found their way to the Historic New Orleans Collection.

You can see all the Historic New Orleans Collection has to offer by visiting either one of their campuses. The Royal Street campus, including The Shop at The Collection, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Chartres Street campus, including the Williams Research Center and Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Learn more about the Historic New Orleans Collection here.



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