Any group that can perform for five presidents and a queen has got to be both nonpartisan and very good. And the McGuire Sisters were very good indeed.
The family trip from Middletown, Ohio, began singing together in 1935 when Phyllis was four, Dorothy was five, and Christine was six. Their early training came at the First Church of God in Miamisburg, Ohio, where their mother, an ordained minister, was the pastor. Throughout their high school years, the girls sang together at Sunday school picnics, church socials, weddings, and even funerals.
They found out at an early age that they had an uncanny ability to harmonize. Renowned musician Jerry Herman called it instant harmony, as Phyllis could star singing in any key while Dot and Chris would immediately pick up the appropriate part and chime in. Their voices blended so uniformly that even their own mother couldn’t tell them apart over a telephone.
As they were forbidden by their parents to listen to secular songs, they had to sneak a listen to their favorites like the Dinning Sisters and THE ANDREWS SISTERS over the radio. They graduated from hymns to pop songs in 1949 and in 1950 toured military bases and veterans hospitals around the country for the U.S.O. What thoroughly convinced them to make pop a career was an incident in 1950 when they were broadcasting hymns in their own three-part harmony style from the First Church of God on West 3rd Street. An agent and bandleader Karl Taylor and his wife Inez were driving in their car when they heard the girls’ performance. They turned that car around and headed straight for the church. During the service Karl waited in that back and when the girls came out (all dressed alike) he told them they were wonderful, gave them his card, and said if they’d like to sing pop music to call him. In a month the girls were singing with Taylor’s band at the Van Cleef Hotel in Dayton, Ohio.
They went on to appear at supper clubs and on local TV. From there they did eight weeks on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1952 and by December 1st were the winners on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” having auditioned with “Mona Lisa” and “Pretty-Eyed Baby.” Invited to appear on his morning show for a week, they replaced THE CHORDETTES and remained for six years.
Before 1952 was over they were signed to Coral Records and had their first single release, “One, Two, Three, Four.”
Their fifth single became their first chart record as “Pine Tree, Pine, Over Me” with Johnny Desmond and Eileen Barton reached number 26 in April 1954. Their follow-up, “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight,” became their first top 10 hit (#7) in the summer of 1954 and first by the group alone. “Muskrat Ramble” made number 10 next by the fall of 1954 and the whirlwind touring life began from New York’s Waldorf Astoria to Las Vegas’s top casinos.
Their lucky 11th single was a cover of THE MOONGLOWS’ classic “Sincerely,” and the group rode the Harvey Fuqua-penned ballad to number one in January 1955 where it resided for an incredible 10 weeks. Even the flip side, “No More,” reached number 17 indicating a developing case of McGuire mania among the general public. “Sincerely” went to number 14 in the U.K., and in a rare case of an American record’s B side also charting, “No More” reached number 20.
With Phyllis consistently on lead the group continued its hot hit pace with songs like “Something’s Gotta Give” (#5, 1955), “He” (#10, 1955), “Sugar Time” (#1, 1957, #14 U.K., 1958), “May You Always” (#11, 1958), and “Just for Old Time’s Sake” (#20, 1961).
The group was so popular that as commercial representatives for Coca-Cola they received the highest fee in advertising history up to that time.
The trio’s last chart record was “Just Because” in 1961 (#99), and in mid-1963 they moved to Reprise for six singles and then to ABC for two more, with their last in September 1966 appropriately titled “Via Con Dios.”
In 1968 they performed for what they thought would be the last time on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” broadcast from Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
An excellent entertainer and skilled comedian, Phyllis went solo and performed with everyone from Johnny Carson to Sammy Davis, Jr. She also appeared in the film Come Blow Your Horn with Frank Sinatra.
In 1985 the sisters made a comeback and the fans were still enthusiastic. Their first appearance was at Harrah’s in Reno, Nevada. In 1989 they performed at the inauguration on President George Bush and they continued to do the Las Vegas/Reno circuit into the 1990s. They did a sparkling performance on Jerry Lewis’s Labor Day Telethon in 1991.
Om recognition of their popularity, MCA Records reissued their greatest hits album on CD. In the early ‘90s they were in the process of recording their first LP in over 20 years with their original producer, Bob Thiele.
When not entertaining Phyllis lives in Las Vegas and gives endless hours of time to humanitarian causes. Christine lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has business interests in movie theatres, pubs, and diet centers. Dorothy also lives in Scottsdale with her husband of 30 years, Lowell Williamson, and the two are extensively involved in community affairs and philanthropic work.
– Jay Warner