Saturday, November 2, 2019


The Boswell Sisters were one of the most popular singer groups in the 1930s. They had a sound that was like liquid gold. Only sister Connee had great ambition to stay in the group. Connee and manager Harry Leedy were married in New York on December 14th 1935. Since all three sisters married that year, new brides Martha and Vet decided to retire, leaving Connie to embark on a solo career. It was a move that would raise her to new heights of popularity and musical innovation, prompting no less than Irving Berlin to call her "the best ballad singer in the business." As a highly sought after radio personality, Connie continued to appear with Bing Crosby and was regularly featured on such popular shows as Camel Caravan, Good News and The Ken Murray Show. Film work included Artists & Models in 1937.

During the peak years of her career, Connee hired (then) unknown musicians such as Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey, to provide instrumentation for her recordings. During one session, all three added a clarinet background. Connie also gave Glenn Miller his first opportunity to arrange. The onset of WW II meant touring and signing autographs for troops. The loss of dexterity from the lingering affect of polio made it difficult to dot the "i" in her name, making Connee a more practical alternative; by 1942, she legally changed the spelling. She volunteered to perform overseas, but she remained stateside due to her handicap, which restricted travel. Her V-Disc recordings and song dedications on Command Performance were favorites with the troops.

Connee's live performances had an innate power to make people take a closer look at their own lives. The sight of a cheerful young woman being wheeled on stage, propped atop an elevated platform with a long gown covering her crippled legs, was sometimes too much for an audience to handle. But Connee, with her pleasant temperament, "which was as breezy as the beat of her music" weathered well her own personal storm.

Connee appeared in the 1941 film, Kiss the Boys Goodbye. On radio, she hosted her own Connee Boswell Show in 1944. In 1946, she appeared in the film Swing Parade and sang "Stormy Weather," which had become one of her signature songs. Syndicated author Elsie Robinson described Connee singing Stormy Weather in a Listen World column: "A roar greeted her. Here was valiant Connie Boswell, beloved by the radio world; tears on her face, hands trembling; singing Stormy Weather; and in that song was the hurt of humanity; in every heart that heard her."

Television emerged in the early 1950s and Connee made regular appearances with Ed Sullivan and Perry Como. In 1955, she was a guest on Person to Person, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. What did Connee think of rock 'n' roll? "Believe it or not, I like Elvis Presley - So sue me. The basic beat of rock 'n' roll isn't too far from the jazz of the old days." A sapient Connee added: "Nothing will ever destroy jazz. It will be around for a long time."

In 1959, a television version of Pete Kelly's Blues premiered and Connee signed on to play lounge singer Savannah Brown. The drama, set in the 1920s, was originally a radio entry in 1951. UPI Hollywood interviewed Connee before production and she remarked: "There's a lot of nostalgia for me about the '20s. My sisters and I were just getting our start as the old Boswell Sisters act." Connee continued: "I'll be singing the way I always have. It's natural for me to belt out songs as they come to my mind, and I never sing a song the same way twice."

Connee worked tirelessly on behalf of the March of Dimes and regularly visited hospitalized children during her travels around the country; the visits were always unannounced and never publicized. Despite her handicap, Connie believed regular exercise was essential to good health and maintaining her throaty contralto voice. A stationary bike and rowing machine were standard equipment on road trips. She enjoyed baseball, football, horse racing and hockey.

In March of 1955, Connee was one of 66 passengers aboard a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The DC-7 developed engine trouble and was forced to make an emergency landing in Chicago. Connee noting the tension among nervous passengers impetuously started singing "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" to comfort frazzled nerves; she was later praised for her heroic action.

A planned visit to Chicago took place a couple of months later when Connee attended the 50th anniversary convention of Rotary International. A caption below the entertainer's photo in The Rotarian magazine stated: "Singer Connee Boswell stars too in the book of personal courage." The eradication of polio would later become Rotary's signature project.

A devoted couple, Connee and Harry Leedy were married almost 40 years, when Harry quietly passed away in his sleep on New Years Day 1975. Early in 1976, Connee became ill and was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She underwent surgery in February and started chemotherapy. By October, she requested that all treatment stop to "let me die in peace and dignity." She passed away at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York on October 11th 1976, with her sister Vet by her side.

News of her passing brought accolades from the world of entertainment. Bing Crosby called her "a great lady with boundless courage and divine talent." Patty Andrews added: "If it weren't for the Boswell Sisters, there would never have been the Andrews Sisters." Ella Fitzgerald stated: "When I was young I wanted to sing like Connie Boswell." Frank Sinatra called her "the most widely imitated singer of all time....

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