“I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues)”The first side the Boswells ever recorded, “I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues)” borrowed from the success of blues singer Mamie Smith’s 1920 hit “Crazy Blues.” The song features Martha’s outstanding piano playing, Connie’s powerful voice working in the blues “mama” style, and Vet’s scat singing. Their ages at the time: Martha, 20, Connie, 17, and Vet, 14.
“When I Take My Sugar to Tea”On their first recording for Brunswick, the sisters are accompanied by the label’s house orchestra, including trombonist Tommy Dorsey, clarinetist Jimmy Dorsey, trumpeter Jack Purvis, drummer Chauncey Morehouse, violinist Joe Venuti, pianist Arthur Schutt, guitarist Eddie Lang, and string bassist Joe Tarto. Many of these artists went on to form their own big bands during the swing era.
“Shout, Sister, Shout!”This signature number became the Boswells’ theme song for the 1932 radio show The Camel Pleasure Hour. With scatting, sudden shifts in tempo, and on-and-off the beat fluctuations in delivery, the arrangement was highly unusual for the time and illustrates the complexity of their musicianship.
“Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On”A model of musical storytelling, this song places the listener on a Mississippi steamboat with engine humming and paddle wheel churning. Midway through, the sisters use an abrupt slowdown in tempo and ascending diminished-seventh chords to convey both anticipation of and ambivalence about returning home and ending their journey.
“Heebie Jeebies”The Boswell Sisters’ “good luck” song, “Heebie Jeebies” served as the opening number for most their performances. They first heard the tune, recorded by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five in 1926, from outside a bar off Tchoupitoulas Street. With the help of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, including trumpeter Manny Klein, guitarist Eddie Lang, string bassist Joe Tarto, and drummer Stan King, the Boswells’ styling of “Heebie Jeebies”—including a new introductory verse with fresh lyrics—illustrates the group’s ability to make a song their own.
“Everybody Loves My Baby”This is a particularly vibrant example of the Boswells’ use of their own special language, a type of gibberish that inserts two-syllable nonsense words—iggle,eggle, uggle, etc.—into the normal lyrics. “Boswellese,” as it is sometimes called, can be heard on many of the sisters’ recordings, but the rapidity and accuracy of its delivery on “Everybody Loves My Baby” is extraordinary.
“Old Yazoo”This song highlights many characteristic features of Boswell arrangements: tempo changes, choruses in minor keys, and subtle changes of chord structure and melodic lines.
“Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane”With characteristic playfulness, the Boswell Sisters added their own lyrics to this traditional tune with the verse, “Aunt Mattie, she told me not to go ... /Now she’s listenin’ on the radio.” This line is a reference to their aunt, who, fearing for their safety, did not want them traveling to Chicago in 1928. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra on this recording includes trumpeter Bunny Berigan, guitarist Dick McDonough, and string bassist Artie Bernstein.
“Crazy People”In perhaps the finest representation of the Boswell Sisters on film, the trio first recorded this song at Paramount Pictures Studios in Astoria, Queens, for the 1932 film The Big Broadcast. The trio recorded it for Brunswick later that year, and again, with jazz band the Ramblers, during their 1933 tour of the Netherlands.
“Forty-Second Street”The Boswell Sisters’ version of this familiar tune is notable for the dreamy, almost surrealistic middle and final sections, sung at a slower tempo than the upbeat first verse and in a minor key. The sisters recorded with the Dorsey Brothers, Manny Klein, Dick McDonough, Artie Bernstein, and Stan King.
“That’s How Rhythm Was Born”This tune is one of the most widely copied Boswell Sisters arrangements—admirer Wynonna Judd used her version as the opening track on her 2009 album Sing: Chapter 1. One of the trio’s preferred “substitute” musicians, Benny Goodman, plays clarinet on this number.
“Dinah”“Dinah” is an example of the Boswells’ contribution to the emerging American popular-song style. With just Martha on piano and Bobby Sherwood on guitar, the sisters make it sound fully conceived and lush. The third musician at the end of the song is Vet, mimicking a trumpet. All three sisters were skilled at imitating instrumental sounds on their recordings, sometimes due to a musician no-show.
“Cheek To Cheek”This side is from the first of three records the trio made under the Decca label. All three included Artie Shaw, who, like many other musicians on Boswell Sisters recordings, would go on to enormous success in the big-band era. At the height of the swing craze, in 1944, a critic wrote that the trio had never “been given proper credit for helping to bring about the advent and subsequent acceptance of swing.”