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Teresa Devlin, The Historic New Orleans Collection
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Sarah Chambless, Gambel Communications
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New exhibition shines spotlight on life, legacy of the Boswell Sisters
New Orleans-based trio were singing sensations of 1920s and '30s
March 2014 | New Orleans, LA - On the 100th anniversary of the Boswell Sisters' arrival in New Orleans, The Historic New Orleans Collection brings the trio back into the spotlight with a new exhibition.
"Shout Sister Shout! The Boswell Sisters of New Orleans" looks at the lives, music and legacy of the three sisters who became national musical sensations. The display is now open and will remain on view through Oct. 26 in THNOC's Williams Gallery, 533 Royal St. in the French Quarter.
About the Boswell Family
In 1914, former vaudeville entertainer A. C. Boswell and his wife, Meldania, moved their four young children-A. C. "Clydie" Jr., 14; Martha, 9; Connie, 8; and Helvetia, or "Vet," 3- from Birmingham, Ala., to Uptown New Orleans so A. C. Sr. could pursue a career with the Fleischmann Company.
Shortly after their arrival, Meldania initiated classical music training for each of her children with the German-born and New Orleans-based tutor Otto Finck. All four became astute musicians who were influenced, as well, by some of the city's most notable jazz talent of the time-including Louis Prima, Pinky Vidacovich, Monk Hazel, Tony Parenti and Emmett Louis Hardy.
While their older brother embarked on a solo career, Martha, Connie and Vet performed as a trio for local events. They quickly became hometown favorites, first for their original instrumental arrangements and later for their syncopated, close-vocal harmonies.
"I think what made their style so attractive," said exhibition curator Mark Cave, "was its freshness and spontaneity, which probably came from their exposure to the vibrant musical climate in New Orleans during the '20s."
With their sights set on the national stage, the Boswell sisters left New Orleans, finding early commercial success in Los Angeles's radio and film industries in the late 1920s, then striking it big in New York performing for NBC and CBS radio.
By 1936 all three sisters had married and their days performing as a trio came to an end. Although their career was short, it included collaborations with a who's who of radio's golden age: Bing Crosby, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey, just to name a few. In addition, they were part of several broadcasting milestones. Locally they were featured on WDSU's first radio broadcast and nationally they were part of CBS's first-ever television broadcast.
The Boswell Sisters were also one of the first successful ensembles that included a member with a disability. Connie Boswell was paralyzed as a young child and never regained the ability to walk. With the help of her sisters and their manager Harry Leedy (whom she later married), Connie remained an integral part of the group and enjoyed a solo career into the early 1960s.
"It was hard for the sisters to hide Connie's disability, and it was frequently talked about in the tabloids," Cave explained, adding that the sisters' willingness to work with Connie and her disability strengthened their bond, "which was undoubtedly an asset."
Years after their heyday, the Boswell Sisters are still regarded as pioneers of the cheerful, close-harmony vocal style that brought joy to listeners across the nation during the Great Depression and later became emblematic of 1940s girl groups.
About the exhibition
"Shout, Sister, Shout!" features more than 80 items, many from the Boswell Museum of Music Collection, which THNOC acquired in 2011.
"Music is our city's greatest export," Cave said. "Bringing this material back home after all these years gives us a chance, through exhibitions like this and through our research center, to educate people about our city's contributions to American music."
Accompanying these materials are personal artifacts and memorabilia from the Boswell family, as curated by Kyla Titus, granddaughter of Vet Boswell.
The display includes listening stations with recordings from the Boswell Sisters, photographs, radio scripts, notes from fans and peers and a 10-minute documentary by filmmaker Dan Garrison featuring an interview with the late Vet Boswell.
Media tour with curator Mark Cave and contributor Kyla Titus
Monday, March 24 • 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
THNOC's Williams Gallery • 533 Royal St.
Limited to members of the media. RSVPs required. Refreshments to be provided.
featuring new vaudeville duo Jones and Boyce performing the music of the Boswell Sisters
Tuesday, March 25 • 6:30-8 p.m.
THNOC's Williams Gallery • 533 Royal St.
Open to the public.
15th Bill Russell Lecture, "The Boswell Sisters: Pioneers of American Popular Music"
featuring a lecture by Kyla Titus and a performance by the Pfister Sisters
Thursday, April 10 • 6-8 p.m.
THNOC's Williams Research Center • 410 Chartres St.
Admission is $10. Advanced registration is required. Seating is limited.
Concert in the Courtyard featuring the New Orleans Nightingales
Thursday, April 17 • Doors: 5:30 p.m.; music: 6-8 p.m.
533 Royal St.
Admission is $10 per person, free for THNOC members, and includes refreshments.
About The Historic New Orleans Collection
Founded in 1966, The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center and publisher dedicated to the preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, The Collection offers guided tours, rotating exhibitions, a research facility and a museum shop. For more information, visit www.hnoc.org or call (504) 523-4662.
The Historic New Orleans Collection - Preserving our Past for a Brighter Future.