The Keller Sisters And Lynch – Flapper Jazz

The legacy of the 1920’s in jazz has mostly been about a couple of standout performers and a large number of classic songs that have made their way into the Great American Songbook. Virtually forgotten are some of the most popular acts of the day, acts that filled the seats in Vaudeville shows and sold a bazillion records for America’s dance-crazy youth during what may have been this country’s first national youth culture. The Keller Sisters and Lynch were one of those acts, and were among the first in a long line of vocal trios influenced by jazz.

In most of my posts about old music, I like to find performers who were influential on those who came later, or those who were uniquely talented and left a significant legacy. But today is just about having some fun. It has been awhile since we have gotten our 20’s on, so you girls find your dancing shoes while we guys grab our raccoon coats and fire up the Stutz Bearcat.

Before the Mills Brothers, before the Boswell Sisters, there was the Sibling trio known as The Keller Sisters and Lynch. Annie (Nan), Frank and Catherine (Taddie) Lynch were born in Chicago in 1900, 1902 and 1909, respectively. The family moved to Philadelphia a few years later, where their father Frank did some performing in Vaudeville theaters. When the kids began trouping on their own as a singing trio, they had some trouble because Taddy was under-age. A fake birth certificate in the name of Ethyl Keller was somehow obtained, which turned them into “Ethyl Keller and Pals” and eventually The Keller Sisters and Lynch.

After some exposure on the Vaudeville circuit, then in its final years as big-time entertainment, the trio cut a few records in 1924. By 1926 they had a big enough name that they were in demand as a vocal trio with many of the best bands of the day.

The music business was a very different thing in the 1920’s from what it would become as soon as the mid 30’s. There were almost countless bands, and many of them had at least some level of national exposure through records, Vaudeville, and the emerging medium of radio. It was the jazz segment of the business that appealed to the young people and there were plenty of bands there to make records at a few bucks a song and play at dances wherever they could find an audience. But some of them were better than others, and the Keller Sisters and Lynch sang with the best ones. Let’s crank up the Victrola and spin samples from three of them – all from 1926. [Listener’s note: I am ranking these in order of increasing sparkle, so if you restrict yourself to only one song, choose one of the last two, which are the highest in overall quality and stand out more than so many other records of so many other bands.]

Ben Bernie, whose nickname was “The Old Maestro” led one of the most popular “hot” dance bands of the 1920’s. His popularity carried over into the 30’s through one of the most highly rated radio programs on the NBC network early in that decade. If you have ever heard the phrase “Yowsah, yowsah, yowsah”, well that was a thing Ben Bernie would say when announcing songs for the band.

I Love Her is a long-forgotten song that served its purpose – giving the kids something to dance to. Like almost all songs of this kind from that era, the band was the star and the singers were mostly for added flavor, so they are featured for only one chorus. Tempos were fast back then, and this record fits right in with what America’s youth was after. And the snappy lyrics show what America’s boys were looking for in America’s girls.

The Jean Goldkette band was probably the best and most famous of the really jazz-oriented bands of the 1920’s and featured many top flight players, including cornet legend Bix Beiderbecke. The Keller Sisters and Lynch recorded several sides for the Goldkette group, inclusing Sunday – which is probably the record that has stood the test of time as their most famous.

There was a lot of bad music made in the 20’s, but pretty much none of it came from Jean Goldkette. Sunday is a song that had a long life, including earning a slot on Frank Sinatra’s Swing Easy album from 1954. Be sure to notice the great solo by Bill Rank, easily one of the best trombone players of his era and a short into for the vocal by the legendary guitarist Eddie Lang.

The vocal is so perfectly of its era, complete with the “Vo-De-O-Doh”s that have become such a 1920’s cliche. It is clear that the group was really in a groove with the hot Goldkette group behind them. All of these records were made within the first year or so of music being recorded through microphones (instead of into big horns), and it is clear that the technology had a ways to go in capturing vocals in front of a band. But they were captured well enough to sell a lot of records.

The final selection today is easily my favorite. The song is not well known – I had actually never heard it before making this dive into the deep end of Lake Arcania. But “Just A Bird’ Eye View (Of My Old Kentucky Home)” was a minor hit for several bands around 1926. But this record stands out as almost a perfect stand-in for that era of irrational exuberance that was the 20’s.

The Ipana Troubadours was one of dozens and dozens of names which served as musical outlets for the prolific Sam Lanin. Lanin was, like many early band leaders, of Russian Jewish extraction. But like Goldkette, Lanin had a great ear for what was hot and stocked his bands with top talent.

The Ipana Troubadours got its name from Ipana toothpaste, in an early example of corporate sponsorship. The vocalists keep up with the song’s torrid pace and also display their Chicago roots by their accent, notable for the hard “R’s” in their rendition of the lyrics.

The Keller Sisters and Lynch were very much of their time, and were pretty much done as performers by the mid 1930s. There is one film made of them as late as 1936, performing another old favorite here, “Nagasaki”. , but this performance lacks a little of the youthful verve of their work of their peak a decade earlier. It also shows that their voices and/or their style were not up to ever improving quality standards as the 1930’s progressed.

All three siblings eventually settled in Oklahoma City. Taddy (the youngest) married saxophonist and band leader Jack Pettis in 1929 and had a family. All three worked in local radio for many years, both on the air and in the operation of a station. Taddy died in 1962 at the age of 53 of cancer. Nan (the eldest) retired from radio in 1970 and died in 1975 at age 75. It was rumored that Ed Sullivan had once been sweet on Nan, but it appears that nothing ever came of it. Frank was the longest lived of the three, surviving until age 90 before his death in 1992. Frank owned several radio stations before his retirement in the 1960’s, a business carried on by his son.

I do not argue that the Keller Sisters and Lynch were influential beyond their time, or even that they were objectively good. Their reason for this day in the sun nearly a century after their heyday is that they captured almost perfectly the sound of that era that became known as The Roaring 20’s. That was an era that burned brightly for a short time – decade of youth, illicit alcohol, parties and dancing . That exuberant decade was not a party that would last forever – the Great Depression saw to that – but while it lasted it was quite a party indeed that can still serve up a little old fashioned fun.

Further reading on The Keller Sisters & Lynch (and many more photos) can be found at jazzage1920s.com

COAL Update: A story of a cool car that seemed like such a good idea at the time.

22 thoughts on “The Keller Sisters And Lynch – Flapper Jazz

  1. J.P., I gotta say that’s a deep dive! I listen to a lot of vintage (including a show we have in my city on Sunday morning that’s all deep vintage), and altho I can’t always remember names, I usually remember the “sound”, and I can’t remember ever hearing these folks! The bands are familiar, of course, and I love the idea of Ipana toothpaste sponsoring a band, When I listen to cuts like these, it reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a favorite author of mine. He’s known for being very accurate about the detail around events portrayed in his books. When I hear this, I think this was the actual music he and his novel characters were listening to when they were first written and he was first writing them. Always makes me think….

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    • I know, these sounds are just so foreign to most of us. I don’t know why I got so intrigued with them after I stumbled across them completely at random. I find it so interesting how some music styles have such long legs and others are almost pure ephemera. Maybe it’s because the ephemera isn’t really very good. But it can certainly add texture to our understanding of a long-ago era.

      I am reminded that my daughter recently went to some kind of fund-raising event that had a 1920s theme. She told me how much she liked listening to the old vintage music – like Etta James. I laughed really hard at that, because Etta James in the 1950s was nothing like the music that was really from the 20s. But we know why they were playing Etta James – because if they had been playing stuff like what I wrote about today, everyone would have left early.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ditto…while early recorded jazz could and might be relatively sophisticated, I don’t really think a lot of people understand how simplistic what passed for “pop” music in the 1920’s could be! I’ve also run across the “era slide” with older music, where people think something is supposed to be representative of something in the 20’s, and it’s really from the 40’s. “Real” 1920’s “pop” music seems way too “rinky-tink”. Not to mention the limitations by the “real estate” on a record side, limiting a lot of stuff to barely three minutes…a lot of people confuse their “retro”…

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      • Yes, it is hard enough to get modern ears to make the leap back to a pre-rock sensibility. Going back even further to a pre-swing period is a bridge too far (if not multiple bridges) for most listeners today.

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  2. Well there’s another group I’d never heard of, but as you say there were many many during the time. Seems like lots of these people were born into vaudeville families, by today’s standards it seems like a tough life to inflict on your children. However I’m sure there were far worse circumstances then and now.

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  3. Thanks for a look at the real 1920’s jazz pop culture. As for the car, finally a classic red car, but I admit it did look good white too…..maybe even a bit better in white. I like the idea of a swing away steering wheel. Too bad it needed so much work. Your car crazy kid is a cutie! I remember the days of no seat belts, but people didn’t seem to worry about it so much back then – maybe there was less traffic?

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    • I think the seat belt thing reflects experience. Most of us never got in a bad accident in those times, but for those who did the results were often really terrible. You are also right that there was way less traffic back then. And yes, we thought he was kind of cute too. 🙂

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  4. I think “I Love Her” is surprisingly modern sounding. That tune/lyrics/tempo with the singing style updated & guitars instead of horns seems like it could be something from the ’60s.

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  5. Thanks, I hate it! “Irrational exuberance” is the perfect phrase, and, to my ear, little proves it more than the flippant choked cymbals and other gag percussion stabs which seem pervasive here.

    I can take it and even enjoy it when the artist/musician/bandleader is in on the gag as a spoof, like Spike Jones. But this! Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Uh-oh, I’ve triggered the drummer. 🙂

      You raise a really interesting point – Jazz drumming made incredible leaps between, say, 1925 and 1935. I tried thinking about who was influential in that world, and there is of course Gene Krupa (with Benny Goodman) but there were surely others who moved the drums in a positive direction before that. I also don’t know if it was a style thing or if some of the common percussion styles evolved because of the early acoustic recording. As you can tell by this rambling response, my knowledge in the field of jazz drumming is woeful.

      Update – I just found a podcast episode about drumming in the 20s. I will have to give it a listen. https://drumsinthetwenties.com/2021/03/10/the-drum-history-podcast-a-look-at-1920s-jazz-drummers-with-ndb/

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  6. The vintage pictures show just how young these girls were, mere teenagers and I like that you said it was the first taste of youth culture. Although I don’t know anything about the Roarin’ Twenties music, the samples you gave had me tapping my foot and wishing I could step back into “The Great Gatsby” era.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I always liked the look of the Thunderbird and I often see them tooling down the main drag during the annual classic cruise event. I remember friends of the family had a turquoise-colored T-bird when we went to visit them in Florida in the late 60s. My father fell in love with that car and if I remember correctly, it had white or cream-colored seats. He never bought one though. I do think your car looked richer as a white car. I laughed at the picture of the deflated tire … kind of like how you were deflated with the car’s many issues. I marveled at the skinny steering wheel back in the day. How different the modern steering wheels look!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I didn’t expect recordings to be included with this one JP because, after all, we’re talking almost a hundred years ago now. Not surprised you referenced Taddy’s age because she looks like she could be the daughter of the other two (esp. in the first and last photos). I also find it interesting how the vocals start so “late” in these examples, but it’s not like everything beforehand was an intro. In fact, the vocals in these examples seem to be just another featured “instrument” in the orchestra. Today, we’re conditioned to just a bit of instrumental music before vocals kick in.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There were older recorded musical styles that were all about the singer, but singing took a back seat to the bands in early jazz. I think Bing Crosby may have been among the first singers in this style who became the feature instead of an embellishment around 1930 or so.

    And I agree that it’s amazing that we are nearly a century removed from these records.

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