Fabulous 50s female harmonies including the hits 'Mr Sandman', 'Lollipop' and 'Born To Be With You' featured in the recent TV car commercial
Anyone who appreciates fine harmony singing will find pleasure and treasure in this new budget priced collection by the Chordettes, America's top female group of the 50s. With their imaginative vocal arrangements, their pure a cappella barbershop versions of standards and their surprisingly effective teen-orientated rock'n'roll, the Chordettes' often breath-taking harmonies lines still have the power to entrance.
Formed by tenor Jinny Osborn in 1949 (whose father was national president for The Society For The Preservation And Encouragement Of Barbershop Quartet Singing In America Inc) the Chordettes - Janet Ertel, Carol Bushman and lead singer Dorothy Schwartz - got their in 1949 winning an audition for a spot on Arthur Godfrey's prestigious Talent Scouts daily TV show. Godfrey pronounced them "air worthy" and "truly radiophonic" and the girls began a four-year stint as Godfrey regulars, sticking to a traditional a cappella barbershop repertoire and even cutting some records for Columbia. Unsurprisingly they also became the new stars of the barbershop convention circuit, and when Dorothy left the Chordettes in 1951, she was replaced by barbershopper Lynn Evans from Youngstown, Ohio. Godfrey, dubbed "King of the Casual Communicators", insisted the girls stay pure barbershop, but his musical director, orchestra leader Archie Bleyer, disagreed. When Bleyer quit Godfrey's show to concentrate on his new record company Cadence (with its first star Julius LaRosa, who'd been sacked 'on air' by Godfrey in 1953), he was also courting Janet Ertel. The inevitable happened: the Chordettes signed with Cadence and left Godfrey, though paying tribute to the kindness of their first mentor "He was like a little father to us", recalled Lynn Evans.
Archie and Janet wed and the bond between the Chordettes and Cadence strengthened. Bleyer began recording the girls using simple arrangements in order not to clutter the vocals, and in 1954 their second single Mr Sandman rocketed them to major chart success. The sensational Chordettes' vocal arrangement plus the saucy flavour imparted by translating it from a man's to a girl's plea, kept Mr Sandman perched atop the US Hot 100 for seven weeks.
From 1954 to 1961 Bleyer (whose other protogés were to include Andy Williams, the Everly Brothers and Johnny Tillotson) found the songs, wrote the arrangements and produced the Chordettes' sessions. "He really has to get most of the credit," says Lynn. His efforts resulted in a string of hits for the group, whose overall sound, combining innocence and wholesomeness with a certain knowingness and sophistication, appealed equally to adults and moonstruck teenagers. Born To Be With You in 1956 hit the Top 10 in America and Britain, while Just Between You And Me (US #5) a year later was featured by the girls on the very first American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, broadcast nation-wide on ABC-TV. In Britain, Lay Down Your Arms, a US Top 20 hit, was covered very successfully by Anne Shelton, while the rocking Lollipop, a US #2, was narrowly beaten by Britain's home-grown Mudlarks. Arriving as they did with the advent of rock'n'roll, the girls tipped a hat or two in that directions. Bleyer even made a short promotional movie featuring the girls acting out No Wheels / A Girl's Work Is Never Done (with King Curtis on sax), but their rock efforts were not altogether successful-.-the glory of their vocals finds fully expression on more traditional material.
Jinny was forced to quit the group because of family problems, but the girls could find no satisfactory replacement. They decided to call it a day.
In retrospect the Chordettes' achievements are many. They flew the flag for girl groups in the 50s, straddling those lean years between the Andrews Sisters etc, and the early 60s girl-group explosion. Their harmonies and vocal invention were an inspiration to dozens of other performers, and their legacy of beautifully produced recordings is perennially enjoyable.
Lynn now lives in New York and works with the Swing Four. Jinny lives in Palm Springs. Carol stayed in Sheboygan. Janet died in 1988 and shortly afterwards her husband Archie Bleyer also passed away. They too had stayed on in Sheboygan.