16 May 2013

The Brox Sisters

Before the Andrew Sisters, before the Boswell Sisters, there were the Brox Sisters. Little remembered today, they were a popular singing trio in the 1920s and early 30s whose sweet, Jazzy harmonies were perfect for the Roaring Twenties.

Born in the US but raised in Canada, the sisters began performing when they were teens, touring the vaudeville circuits. Around this time they changed their surname, Brock, to Brox, reportedly after a producer told them that it would fit better on the marquee. Their first names went as well: Josephine became Bobbe, Eunice changed to Lorayne, and Kathleen to Patricia.

Their big break came in 1921 when they sang "Everybody Step" and "the Schoolhouse Blues" in Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue. For the rest of their careers, the sisters would be associated with Berlin. He cast them in two more Music Box Revues (1923 and 1924) as well as in the Marx Brothers musical Cocoanuts (1926) in which they sang the novelty song “Monkey Doodle Doo.” The following year they were in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 with Eddie Cantor and Ruth Etting, again singing Berlin's work—"Jungle-Jingle" and "It's Up to the Band."

A move to Hollywood led to their appearance in a handful of shorts and a few Hollywood films including King of Jazz (1930); Hollywood on Parade (1932), in which they do an impression of Marlene Dietrich singing “Falling in Love Again;” and most importantly The Hollywood Revue of 1929 in which they performed along with Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards the song “Singing in the Rain”—the first time the song appeared on screen.

The sisters made a series of bestselling records and popular radio appearances before marriages for all three in the 1930s saw the break up of the act. They would reunite one last time in 1939 for a radio salute to who else but Irving Berlin.

With the Brox Sisters there were no solos, no show offs—just three young women harmonizing as one. Although their high voices can sometimes come across as cloying, there is still something appealing about them. Perhaps it’s their air of innocence that allowed them to get away with singing what would have been considered some rather naughty lyrics. Or maybe it's the Southern twang they used. What's clear is that their sound combined with their youthful vitality made them a perfect fit for the 1920s.

To hear some examples of their singing, visit the LOC's National Jukebox here. And to see them perform "Singing in the Rain," watch this. By the way, if you're wondering why Ukelele Ike sounds familiar it's probably because he was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio.

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