Originally created 05/25/04

Boogie Sisters perform wartime music



When the United States plunged into World War II in 1941, the Andrews Sisters helped lift the nation's mood with cheerful, upbeat songs such as I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time and Rum and Coca-Cola.

More than 60 years later, four teachers from North Augusta are evoking the legacy of the Andrews Sisters, singing to the surviving members of the greatest generation.

The Boogie Sisters -Page Kight, Betty Ann Ferguson, Julie Gazda and Sharon Lamar, on piano-came together in May 2001 and performed the Andrews Sisters' Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy in conjunction with a play by fifth-graders at Hammond Hill Elementary School in North Augusta. That led to an invitation to the Aiken County teachers retirement banquet, at which they added In Blossom Time to their repertoire. Mrs. Lamar's daughter Aubrey suggested they take their name from Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

"From there, we were asked to sing for retirement homes, churches, clubs and last summer for the McCormick Dairy festival," said Mrs. Kight, who teaches music at Hammond Hill. "We really like to sing for veterans, since we're kind of like the Andrews Sisters."

The singers estimate they've given 75 free performances, with Christmas as busy as two to three shows a week. This summer, they are already booked to sing for the Academy of Richmond County-Tubman 50th reunion.

The set list has expanded and although most of the songs, such as Bei Mir Bist Du Schon were popularized by LaVerne, Maxene and Patty Andrews, others, such as Chattanooga Choo Choo, Mr. Sandman and GI Jive, were not. They practice in the music room at Hammond Hill.

"The kids have really gotten into it too," said Mrs. Lamar. "If we practice, afterward they'll have requests for us."

A recent performance at Hammond House, an assisted living facility in North Augusta, took place at 5:30 p.m. in the building's softly lighted dining hall. As Mrs. Kight's husband, Rodney, set up a keyboard and tested three microphones, about 30 men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s finished dinner. Mrs. Gazda's uncle and Mrs. Lamar's mother-in-law live at Hammond House, so no introduction was required.

"We've played here more than anywhere else," Mrs. Kight said.

Dressed in matching dark-blue dresses with white polka dots, and wearing white gloves, they sang 11 songs for about a half an hour.

Their costumes include red, white and blue gowns and Army uniforms. Sentimental Journey was followed by Chattanooga Choo Choo, Mr. Sandman, Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree, Rum and Coca-Cola, Christmas Island and You Made Me Love You, to which many diners sang along softly. Capping off the performance with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, the women broke away from the keyboard and walked around to greet the audience members.

"Every time we sing; they'll come up and say, 'I feel 18 again.' Some will be laughing and some will be crying," said Mrs. Gazda, an art teacher at Hammond Hill.

After one performance, she said, a woman came up to them and showed them a small picture of herself crowned Ms. Trinidad, a country mentioned in the song Rum and Coca-Cola.

"They definitely want to talk, and that's why we stick around there. That's part of the experience ," she said.

If the Andrews Sisters serve as the Boogie Sisters' inspiration from the past, Mrs. Gazda said the Chenille Sisters, who performed in 2002 with the Augusta Symphony, are current models. Although much of the music predates them, the Boogie Sisters heard the same songs as children.

"My parents are both singers, and these songs weren't that old back then, so they were just known as oldies," Mrs. Gazda said. "I grew up in Aiken, but we'd go to Luigi's and hear to a lot of those songs on the jukebox."

Even though they have performed for crowds as large as 300, Mrs. Gazda said they're not going to overtake the Andrew Sisters any time.

"For one thing, they had Bing Crosby, and we're still looking for one. We still need Bing and a band," she said with a laugh.

Reach Patrick Verel at (706) 823-3332 or patrick.verel@augustachronicle.com.

about a half an hour.

Their costumes include red, white and blue gowns and Army uniforms. Sentimental Journey was followed by Chattanooga Choo Choo, Mr. Sandman, Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree, Rum and Coca-Cola, Christmas Island and You Made Me Love You, to which many diners sang along softly. Capping off the performance with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, the women broke away from the keyboard and walked around to greet the audience members.

"Every time we sing; they'll come up and say, 'I feel 18 again.' Some will be laughing and some will be crying," said Mrs. Gazda, an art teacher at Hammond Hill.

After one performance, she said, a woman came up to them and showed them a small picture of herself crowned Ms. Trinidad, a country mentioned in the song Rum and Coca-Cola.

"They definitely want to talk, and that's why we stick around there. That's part of the experience ," she said.

If the Andrews Sisters serve as the Boogie Sisters' inspiration from the past, Mrs. Gazda said the Chenille Sisters, who performed in 2002 with the Augusta Symphony, are current models. Although much of the music predates them, the Boogie Sisters heard the same songs as children.

"My parents are both singers, and these songs weren't that old back then, so they were just known as oldies," Mrs. Gazda said. "I grew up in Aiken, but we'd go to Luigi's and hear to a lot of those songs on the jukebox."

Even though they have performed for crowds as large as 300, Mrs. Gazda said they're not going to overtake the Andrew Sisters any time.

"For one thing, they had Bing Crosby, and we're still looking for one. We still need Bing and a band," she said with a laugh.

Reach Patrick Verel at (706) 823-3332 or patrick.verel@augustachronicle.com.