IN PERFECT HARMONY: CELEBRATING THE VOCAL GROUP
By David W. McCain
The Boswell Sisters would have enjoyed this evening— and not just because their own music was featured and acknowledged in such a way that showed someone had done their research into musical history—-but because the range of music featured throughout the program exhibited that sense of adventure, daring and fun that were such hallmarks of the Boswell style.
The person responsible for mounting “In Perfect Harmony: Celebrating the Vocal Group” which ran three evenings (March 24-26, 2012) at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York as a part of the Y’s ongoing “Lyrics and Lyricists” series was artistic director Rob Fisher, who was onstage providing the continuity between songs (and obviously enjoying himself very much).
The concept of celebrating the vocal group in two acts in approximately two hours couldn’t have been an easy one, but Mr. Fisher succeeded admirably in highlighting well-known (and a few not-so-well-known) songs with a spirit of adventure that made you understand why the original performers were so unique in their day—and why their recorded legacies still entertain. The performers—the DiGiallonardo Sisters (Daniela, Nadia and Christine) and the New York Voices (Darmon Meader, Peter Eldridge, Kim Nazarian and Lauren Kinhan) gave spirited performances of songs ranging from quite an eclectic mix: the Pied Pipers (I’ll Never Smile Again), Laura Nyro’s song made famous by the Fifth Dimension (Stoned Soul Picnic), Abba (Take A Chance on Me), the Andrews Sisters (Bei Meir Bist Du Schoen and Tico Tico), the Beatles (Because and Day Tripper) and in the evening’s most audacious offering–Freddie Mercury and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (which both acts performed together). Listening to the flawless performance of Bohemian Rhapsody—so familiar from my radio listening years in the 70s, I thought to myself, “I just bet Freddie Mercury knew about or would have loved the Boswell Sisters—and they would have appreciated him as well.” Talk about two acts that went “out on a limb” as far as arrangements! It takes a fellow adventurer to appreciate and recognize another—-the Boswells didn’t hesitate when it came to tempo changes, and neither did Freddie Mercury and Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody!
The DiGiallonardo Sisters sang two Boswell numbers: Crazy People and Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia, with large screen photo backdrops of the 1920s Boswells in New Orleans (with Connie holding a ukulele) and a still from their film The Big Broadcast. Hearing the Boswells’ music sung in live performance by several groups over the last 30 years was not a new experience for me, but hearing the DiGiallonardos’ harmonies gave me a keener appreciation of the blending and timing that were such hallmarks of the Boswell style. Their blend is not just from talent alone, but “in the blood.” Born and raised in Brooklyn, the DiGiallonardo Sisters’ bio echoes the 1930s Boswell publicity of three sisters who grew up singing together.
When asked how they came across the Boswell Sisters, Christine DiGiallonardo explained,. “I’m the youngest of the three and I don’t remember a time when we weren’t singing in three-part harmony. My mother had this box set of CDs (music of the 30s & 40s or something) and there was one CD of the Andrews Sisters and one of the Boswells. So I definitely was aware of the Boswells and listened to some of their stuff but we never tried singing any of their songs until very recently. We were asked to do A Prairie Home Companion for the first time as a trio two years ago and our friend Rob Fisher asked if we had ever done Boswell Sisters stuff. We said, “no” but we all knew of them and loved their sound. We learned Heebie Jeebies first, then Shout, Sister, Shout and now we really just love all their songs. We definitely feel more in touch with their sound than the Andrews Sisters. There’s just something really soulful and ‘down home’ about them.”
Rob Fisher’s introduction of Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia (which the DiGiallonardos performed with Christine sitting like Connie Boswell and with Nadia and Daniela on either side of her) included quoting Maxene and Patty Andrews telling Rex Reed (in 1974) that, “we copied the Boswell Sisters so much that we sounded like shrimp trawlers.” He even quoted from the telegram they sent to Vet Boswell when Connee Boswell died in 1976: “Without the Boswell Sisters, there wouldn’t be the Andrews Sisters.” None of this is news to musicologists or readers of the stories on www.bozzies.org, but how wonderful it was to hear such acknowledgment in a live performance!
I especially enjoyed the DiGiallonardo Sisters’ performance of Teach Your Children and Neutron Dance (the last recorded by the Pointer Sisters and which vied with Bohemian Rhapsody as the evening’s second-most adventurous offering) and their Beach Boys medley which included Surfer Girl and In My Room. They were joined by the New York Voices for a version of I Get Around that made it seem like it was 1964 all over again. Kim and Lauren of the New York Voices teamed with the sisters in a tribute to the 1960s girl groups: Good, Good Lovin’, It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song) and One Fine Day.
It was an entertaining evening from start to finish, and the joyous and spirited performances will stay with me for a long time. I felt I got double my money’s worth—an evening of nostalgic songs so familiar via well-known recordings, coupled with the feeling that I was hearing these tunes for the first time. Great job everyone!