Virtual Tours at the Historic New Orleans Collection: The Boswell Sisters of New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– As we continue to miss our live music here in the midst of 2020’s unfortunate realities, luckily the Historic New Orleans Collection has plenty of virtual tours. One of these tours has quite a bit of harmony in it. Shout, Sister, Shout! The Boswell Sisters of New Orleans is a great way to learn about one of the most influential vocal groups of the 1930’s.

Mark Cave is the curator of the HNOC virtual tour and says that in 1914, a traveling family blew into the city of New Orleans. The parents were vaudeville performers and the older son, named Clyde Jr. was an accomplished violinist. Unfortunately he was overtaken with the sickness during the flu pandemic and passed away. His younger sisters were also musicians. Martha Boswell, Connee Boswell, and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell were coming to their own as the blossoming vocal talent of New Orleans.

The Boswell Sisters had intricate vocal harmonies and seemed to have a language all their own. They would perform all over the city, having many concerts at the Orpheum Theatre, at that time, the center of Vaudeville New Orleans.

New Orleans had already produced many a jazz musician and quite a few headed up to perform at the great venues in Chicago. In 1925, the sisters were discovered by a talent agent and went to Chicago themselves.

In 2020, musicians use the new mediums of zoom and instagram, but in the 1930’s it was radio that was in it’s infancy. Everyday, stars were born along with celebrity commercial culture in America. The Boswell sisters had a radio program titled “The Camel Pleasure Hour,” for sponsor, Camel Cigarettes.

Over the years, the likes of Ella Fitzgerald would sing Boswell Sisters praises, as well as the Boswell sister’s friend and coworker at CBS, Bing Crosby. As the years progressed they would find themselves on yet another new medium, film. They’ve appeared in movies such as: The Big Broadcast and Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round. By 1936 all the sisters were married and two retired retired from music to live happily ever after.

The Historic New Orleans Collection still has quite a bit of material that have and are currently cataloging, including an early recording device the family used, with sound from some of the early Boswell jam sessions in New Orleans. To experience the exhibition, you can click here.

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