“Sisters” — The Beverley Sisters/Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen
My grand-dad loved variety theatre. Long before TV came along he, along with a large part of the population of every major city in the UK, would head off to their local variety theatre after work on a Friday night as a special treat to round off the working week.
For my grand-dad, the famous Glasgow Empire was his favourite place to go.
My grandad wasn’t much of a drinker so he went to the first house…the second house at the Glasgow Empire on a Friday night was only for the very bravest acts…
Not everyone, even some of the biggest stars of the day, enjoyed performing in front of a demanding crowd of Glaswegians who had been drinking away the pay packets they’d been handed earlier that day for several hours before the curtain went up.
Over the years my grand-dad saw hundreds of acts, but his favourites were what used to be called “song and dance men”.
American acts on a European tour went down really well in post-war Glasgow. And for those acts, a trip to the Glasgow Empire was as much a rite of passage as performing at Wembley stadium might be for one of today’s up-and-coming acts.
When you’d played the Glasgow Empire and survived, that said something about the quality of your act to every other theatre-booker in the country.
To give you an idea of what a big deal it was to play there, people who performed at the Glasgow Empire included Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Judy Garland and Laurel and Hardy. Danny Kaye was a hugely popular act amongst Glaswegians and I’m sure my grand-dad’s great affection for him was sparked by seeing him win over some of the toughest crowds in the land.
Danny Kaye was by far my grand-dad’s favourite act. He had a lightness of touch and such an engaging personality that he had the famously-tough crowd at the Glasgow Empire eating out the palm of his hand.
I never saw Danny Kaye person, but I certainly watched him in old movies with my grand-dad on rainy Saturday afternoons when it was too wet to go out.
Danny Kaye was no mean actor and starred as Walter Mitty in the 1947 film ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’, which gave birth to expression we now use to describe life’s perpetual dreamers.
And, importantly for the purpose of this post, Danny Kaye also starred, alongside Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera- Ellen in the 1954 film ‘White Christmas’…which is how we get to the tale of the great Irving Berlin’s song “Sisters”.
We’ll get to Danny Kaye’s role in that in a moment, though, because I’m writing about “Sisters” today primarily because of another great act of the post-war years…a British one this time…called the Beverley Sisters.
The Beverley Sisters were the Spice Girls of their day and hugely popular for their close-harmony singing of popular songs, including some slightly risque material on occasion…at least for the time, you get worse on a TV commercial these days...
To complete the Spice Girls analogy, Joy, one of the three Beverley Sisters, even married the England football captain of the time, Billy Wright, beating Victoria Adams (as she was) and David Beckham to it by 50 years or so.
However earlier this week, one of the two remaining Beverley Sisters, Babs, passed away, leaving only Teddie still with us at the age of 91.
“Sisters” became the Beverley Sisters theme song and I always think of it when I think of them…and, indeed, vice versa.
But every time I think of the song “Sisters” I’m also transported back to happy times watching Danny Kaye in ‘White Christmas’ with my grand-dad…see, I told you we would get back to Danny Kaye eventually…
I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, but just in case you haven’t, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye help nightclub performers Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen escape the clutches of their unscrupulous landlord by performing the ladies’ act at the nightclub.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear…but don’t think about it for too long as it’ll destroy the magic…the club happens to have a vinyl recording of the ladies’ act, so they put that on while Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye mime to the words. (Which is somehow appropriate given that Vera-Ellen didn’t sing her words either — they were courtesy of, depending which source you believe, Rosemary Clooney duetting with herself or Trudy Stevens, who voiced the rest of Vera-Ellen’s songs.)
The landlord trying to find the two nightclub performers presumes they’re in the theatre performing their act because he can hear them singing…he doesn’t know it’s a recording. Meanwhile Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen make their escape. By the time the landlord finds out what happened, the ladies are long gone, safely on a train to Vermont.
Irving Berlin wrote “Sisters”, as indeed he wrote the rest of the songs for ‘White Christmas’.
The title song to ‘White Christmas’ is one of the best-known songs of all time — Bing Crosby’s version alone is the biggest-selling single of all time with over 100 million copies sold worldwide and, of course, hundreds of other artists have covered it too.
The concept behind “Sisters” is simple enough. They’re telling one another, and everybody listening, that no man is going to make a difference to the love they have for one another…you can see why the song was a natural choice for the Beverley Sisters…
There were never such devoted sisters
Never had to have a chaperone, no sir
I’m there to keep my eye on her
It’s a long time since words like “chaperone” appeared in popular songs, or indeed life more generally, so you know we’re speaking of a time long ago here. 1954, when Irving Berlin wrote “Sisters” is…gulp…very nearly 65 years ago as I write this…
I like Irving Berlin’s little word-reversal trick at the end of the song. To be fair, it’s something that plenty of people have done over the years, but one of the finest examples I can think of is in the last two lines of “Sisters”…the switch somehow brings a balance and a completeness to the song, with the story all wrapped up nicely in a bow…
Those who’ve seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us
Many men have tried to split us up, but no-one can
Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister
And lord help the sister who comes between me and my man
Although there are some Beverly Sisters videos on YouTube, I can’t find a single one of them performing “Sisters”, so the Spotify link below is to their performance.
As it’s more of a visual, than musical, performance I’ve attached the videos of, firstly, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen doing “Sisters” properly, then Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye miming to the ladies’ act while they make their escape to Vermont.
You may or may not find this amusing, but I can’t watch “Sisters” from ‘White Christmas’ without remembering my grand-dad’s guffaws as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye hoofed their way through something approximating to Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen’s act.
Hearing the news of Babs from the Beverly Sisters passing away this week made me immediately think of “Sisters”.
As is always the case, whenever I think of that song, it triggers fond memories of the times of rainy Saturday afternoons…of which Glasgow has many…watching Hollywood musicals and old films with my long-departed grand-dad when I was growing up.
Here’s the Beverley Sisters, together with Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, performing Irving Berlin’s “Sisters”.
I hope my grand-dad is enjoying all the best song and dance acts in heaven right now…and maybe even catching up with his all-time hero, Danny Kaye…
The video is below but, if you prefer, you can enjoy the Beverley Sisters version of “Sisters” on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/5TQd6BB0qm5q5NK1IwWJSL
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