Constance Foore “Connie” Boswell (December 3, 1907 – October 11, 1976) was an American vocalist renowned for her exceptional talent in the realm of jazz. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, Connee’s remarkable career as a singer and her influence on jazz are remembered as enduring legacies in the world of music.
Early Life and the Boswell Sisters
Connee Boswell’s journey in music began alongside her sisters, Martha and Helvetia “Vet,” in the 1920s and 1930s as part of the iconic trio known as The Boswell Sisters. Initially instrumentalists, they transitioned into a highly influential singing group, leaving an indelible mark through their recordings and appearances in film and television.
The Rise to Stardom
The Boswell Sisters’ musical journey started locally, gaining recognition in their early teens with appearances in New Orleans theaters and on the radio. Their first recordings for Victor Records in 1925, including “Cryin’ Blues,” showcased Connee’s distinct vocal style, influenced by African-American singer Mamie Smith.
In 1928, a pivotal moment arrived when the sisters were invited to perform in Chicago. Their act soon found success on the Western vaudeville circuit, and while in San Francisco, they crossed paths with Harry Leedy, a part-owner of Decca Records, who became their manager and, later, Connee’s husband.
The trio’s fame soared when they moved to New York City in 1930 and began national radio broadcasts. Recording for Brunswick Records from 1931 to 1935, The Boswell Sisters achieved numerous hits. Connee also pursued a solo career during this time, producing several successful singles.
In 1935, the group reached the pinnacle of their career with the No. 1 hit “The Object of My Affection.” Despite their success, The Boswell Sisters disbanded in 1936 after signing with Decca Records. Connee, however, continued to shine as a solo artist with Decca and later with other labels such as Apollo, RCA Victor, and Design.
Radio and Film Appearances
Connee Boswell’s captivating voice graced the airwaves, becoming a co-star on NBC Radio’s Kraft Music Hall in 1940–1941 and headlining her own radio show, “The Connee Boswell Show,” on the NBC Blue Network (later ABC Radio) in 1944. She also made guest appearances on various radio programs, contributing her talent to fundraisers, charity events, and patriotic broadcasts.
In addition to her radio work, Boswell showcased her vocal prowess in Hollywood films such as “It’s All Yours” (1937), “Artists and Models” (1937), “Syncopation” (1942), and “Swing Parade of 1946.” Her early collaborations with The Boswell Sisters included appearances in “The Big Broadcast” (1932) and “Moulin Rouge” (1934).
Personal Life and Philanthropy
Connee Boswell was born with a spirit of resilience, singing from a wheelchair or seated position throughout her career due to either a childhood battle with polio or a fall from a wagon. Her condition was not widely known, yet she used her platform to support philanthropic efforts, particularly those related to disabilities, such as the March of Dimes. Her involvement included recordings, personal appearances, and television promotional spots.
Collaboration with Bing Crosby
Connee Boswell enjoyed a cherished partnership with Bing Crosby, frequently performing together on radio and recording hit duets in the 1930s and 1940s. Their rendition of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” became a No. 1 hit in 1938, benefiting the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later the March of Dimes). In 1939, their duets, including “An Apple for the Teacher,” also achieved chart success.
Later Career and Legacy
Boswell’s solo career spanned several decades, with numerous chart-topping hits, including “Moonlight Mood” (1942) and “If I Give My Heart to You” (1954). Although her career slowed in the 1950s, she continued to record and make television appearances, leaving an enduring mark on the world of jazz.
Conclusion and Passing
Connee Boswell’s enchanting voice and musical artistry made her one of the great female jazz vocalists of her era. She passed away on October 11, 1976, at the age of 68, succumbing to stomach cancer. Her life and contributions were celebrated in the 2006 documentary “Connee Boswell: Life Is a Song,” a testament to her enduring influence on the world of music.