Connee Boswell

It seems appropriate to celebrate this beautiful sunny spring day with some Connee Boswell, along with Martha and Vet. The Boswell Sisters have been on my list of favorite musicians for years, and I’m always surprised when I speak with someone unfamiliar with their recordings. Do yourself a favor and go down a Boswell Sisters rabbit hole on youtube.

The sisters moved to New Orleans from Missouri in 1914. Their mother hired a music teacher to give lessons to the girls and they all became accomplished multi-instrumentalists, then the family hired some local women to help with the chores who subsequently befriended the girls. They would sing while working, introducing the Bozzies to the blues and spirituals. Soon the girls began harmonizing together, coming up with their own unique vocal arrangements. They would incorporate all sorts of tempo changes and crazy techniques into their tunes — pig latin, scatting, and all manner of other interesting vocal sounds (Listen to their versions of “Don’t Mean a Thing” or “Everybody Loves My Baby” for example). Their classical training blended with the influence of their musical surroundings in New Orleans gave them a uniquely creative sound.

I’d like to draw special attention to Connee Boswell, who is one of my favorite female vocalists of all time, and an incredibly inspiring person. She had polio when she was three years old and was paralyzed from head to toe. However, her mother had complete faith that she would recover and live a full life. She helped her re-learn to crawl which gave her back a little arm strength and then decided to give her cello lessons at age four, since it was an instrument that would be played seated. Connee credits the cello playing for helping her to recover the use of her arms. She went on to teach herself piano, guitar, and saxophone at the least.

The sisters were very successful in the ’30s, bringing joy to a Depression-weary nation through their radio broadcasts. [1] After her sisters decided to retire into family life (all three married the same year), Connee went on to have a very full career as a vocalist, working with many of the greats. Since she was wheelchair-bound, she often performed while seated on a cocktail stool with a full-length gown making it appear that she was standing.

Regardless of the difficulty she faced, Connee’s spirit was strong and she radiated joy when she made music. Syndicated writer, Elsie Robinson gives this beautiful description of one of Connee’s performances: “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.”[2] Connee later became active with charitable organizations, visiting hospitals to spend time with children with disabilities and sometimes bringing her dog to entertain the kiddos (she trained dogs as a hobby), [3] and just generally being a bright shining light to those around her.

ConneeBoswell

Here are some more of my favorite of their recordings:

(Re)Sources:

[1] Bozzies.org (http://bozzies.org/bozbios/)

[2] Cort Vitty. “The Personal Storm of Connee Boswell.” Radio Recall. February 2012. http://www.mwotrc.com/rr2012_02/boswell.htm

[3] Connee Boswell interviewed by Lee Phillip. The Lee Phillip Show. 1963. (https://youtu.be/z0Rk_ugoi58)

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