THE MCGUIRE SISTERS
The McGuire Sisters were a singing trio in American popular music. The group was composed of three sisters: Christine McGuire (born July 30, 1926); Dorothy McGuire (February 13, 1928 – September 7, 2012); and Phyllis McGuire (born February 14, 1931). Among their most popular songs are “Sincerely” and “Sugartime”.
The McGuire sisters were born in Middletown, Ohio and grew up in Miamisburg. Their mother, Lillie, was an ordained minister of the Miamisburg First Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), where, as young girls, they sang in the church at weddings, funerals and church revivals. When they started singing in 1935, the youngest sister, Phyllis, was four years old. Eventually, they sang at occasions outside church and, by 1949, were singing at military bases and veterans’ hospitals. They incorporated a more diverse repertoire for those events. Christine had two children, Herold and Asa; Dorothy had two, Rex and David. Phyllis has no children.
In 1952, they signed with Coral Records. That same year, they appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and, as a result, Godfrey hired them for his other shows, where they remained for seven years. Cosmopolitan’s November 1953 issue called them “Godfrey’s Merry McGuires”. The McGuire Sisters were compared often to The Andrews Sisters. Maxene Andrews once said, “The McGuire Sisters were fine once they stopped imitating The Andrews Sisters”, during an interview with Joe Franklin on WWOR-AM Radio in 1979.
In early McGuire recordings, Phyllis’ voice can almost be mistaken for that of Patty Andrews’. The McGuires and Andrewses met several times throughout their careers, and Phyllis credited Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne during a television interview with Maxene in the 1990s, hosted by Sally Jessy Raphael, saying that she and her sisters met the Andrews Sisters in New York in the early 1950s and received important advice. Much like The Andrews Sisters, The McGuire Sisters moved when they sang, often executing dance routines during lavish production numbers on countless television specials (something The Andrews Sisters had originated in films during the 1940s, really becoming the first female vocal group to move when they sang, rather than just standing at a microphone). Phyllis and her sisters mimicked the singing style of The Andrews Sisters, as well as The Mills Brothers and The Dinning Sisters, from very young ages when they would perform short shows for family and friends in their parents’ living room. While Phyllis is fond of saying in interviews that she and her sisters did not know any popular songs when they became famous (only the church hymns taught them by their minister mother), the trio often imitated other singing groups long before their success.
They performed for five Presidents of the United States (Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush) and for Queen Elizabeth II. In 1958, their mother appeared as a guest challenger on the television game show To Tell the Truth. The McGuire Sisters maintained a busy television schedule, making frequent appearances on popular variety hours hosted by Ed Sullivan, Dean Martin, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Andy Williams, Perry Como and Red Skelton. The trio was dressed and coiffed identically and performed their synchronized body movements and hand gestures with military precision. Their recordings of “Sincerely,” “Picnic,” and 1958’s “Sugartime” all sold more than one million copies.
In 1968, they retired from public appearances, giving their last performance that year on The Ed Sullivan Show. Phyllis McGuire continued to perform solo for a time. The demise of the group is often attributed to Phyllis’ long-standing personal relationship with mobster Sam Giancana (although she has always claimed that their friendship was strictly platonic), which reportedly blacklisted the group.
During one of his 1960s court appearances for which Phyllis was subpoenaed, Giancana told reporters outside the courthouse that “Phyllis knows everything” about the rumored, unethical behaviors of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. Phyllis has resided in a famously showcased mansion in Las Vegas for decades, boasting its own beauty parlor, a swan moat, and a replica of the Eiffel Tower which actually rises through the home’s roof. When asked by Barbara Walters during a 1980s ABC-TV “20/20” interview from within the mansion if any of the money to build the lavish home came from Giancana, Phyllis denied the innuendo, claiming that she invested heavily in oil when the sisters were at the height of their popularity.
In 1986, The McGuire Sisters , performing at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, for the first time since their retirement. Numerous nightclub engagements followed in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and New York City’s Rainbow & Stars, showcasing the group and Phyllis’ impersonations of Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman and even Louis Armstrong. Singing their greatest hits as part of their act, they were also featured performing specialty numbers like the frantic “I Love a Violin,” the a cappella “Danny Boy,” and a segment during which Phyllis retired backstage as Christine and Dorothy shared the spotlight playing a concert arrangement of “The Way We Were” on twin pianos. Other highlights in the act were a comical Trinidad-flavored tune, a soft rendering of “Memory” from Broadway’s “Cats,” and a “Money Medley,” which they also performed live on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon in 1994.
Since then, the sisters have made occasional public appearances together, including in 2004, when they reunited to perform in a PBS special Magic Moments: Best of ’50s Pop. It was plain to see on this 2004 program that at least Phyllis underwent some type of plastic surgery (most notably on her lips, which appeared much larger than ever before, even changing her speech), and the sisters’ command of their vocal cords and harmonious blend had significantly diminished.
In 1994, they were inducted into the National Broadcasting Hall of Fame. In 2001, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. They have also been inducted into the Coca-Cola Hall of Fame and the Headliners’ Hall of Fame. Then, in 2009, they were inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
After their careers wound down, they opened a restaurant in Bradenton, Florida and called it McGuire’s Pub.
On September 7, 2012, Dorothy McGuire died at her son’s home in Paradise Valley, Arizona after suffering from Parkinson’s disease and age-related dementia. She was 84.