Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Boswell Sisters, vocal group. Connie (later Connee) Boswell (b. Kansas City, December 3, 1907, d. October 11, 1976, New York), Martha Boswell (b. Kansas City, July 9, 1905, d. July 2, 1958, Peekskill, New York), Helvetia (better known as Vet) Boswell (b. Birmingham, Alabama, May 20, 1911, d. November 12, 1988, Peekskill, New York). The Boswell Sisters were the most innovative vocal group of their day. Although they first recorded in 1925, their main body of recordings were made from 1930-1936. All three sisters, who grew up in New Orleans, were trained instrumentalists. Connie played cello, piano and saxophone, Vet played violin and guitar, and Martha played piano. Martha was the only one who played an instrument in the act, but Connie wrote all of the arrangements, except "Darktown Strutter's Ball", which was arranged by Vet.
Connie's arrangements for the group were daring and innovative, featuring unexpected changes in tempo and mood. Their version of "There'll Be Some Changes Made" includes 6 dramatic tempo changes in just over three minutes. The same recording also includes another Boswell innovation: the transformation of 32-bar pop song lyrics into 12-bar blues. By repeating the first phrase of an 8-bar lyric line and using the second phrase as the final blues line, Connie found she make a blues out of just about any pop song. The adaptations in form and tempo often exposed different (and often darker) meanings of the lyrics. The Boswells worked with some of the finest studio musicians of the day, most of whom later became bandleaders in their own right, including Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bunny Berigan and Artie Shaw.
By 1936, marriages and pregnancies put an end to the Boswell Sisters as a group. Connie, who had maintained a solo career in addition to singing with her sisters, continued as a solo act until her passing in 1958. She was an early influence on Ella Fitzgerald, and when she sang with jazz groups, most were in the traditional New Orleans style. Her sisters remained in retirement, with the thought of a comeback or reunion tour never seriously considered. A wealth of information on the Boswell Sisters can be found at www.bozzies.com.
Contributor: Thomas Cunniffe