LADIES & GENTLEMEN
IN HONOUR OF A RAPIDLY APPROACHING CHRISTMAS SEASON
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THE O'CONNOR SISTERS
Vaudeville Stars from 1910 to 1937
Having devoted five postings to the Scots Paternal side of my father's family, it seems only fair that I post something about the Irish Maternal side as well. My grandmother's cousins, the O'Connor Sisters, were the daughters of John O'Connor and Ellen O'Leary (no relation to the owner of the cow that burned down Chicago). Born on their parents pioneering farm in southern Etobicoke, they made their 1910 singing debut at Shea's in Buffalo.
Now largely forgotten, they appeared with the likes of Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton, Sophie Tucker, Red Skelton, George Burns and Gracie Allen. The Sisters played the major vaudville houses throughout the North East United States and Canada.
Among the theatres where they appeared were Shea's Hippadrome in Toronto, Fox Theatre in Detroit, Majestic in Chicago and Fifth Avenue in New York.
When sisters left the group to marry, three of the sisters continued as a trio, working into the 1930's. The members of the group had always been fluid, beginning as a quartet, it became a sextet when their manager decided that would be original. They were the subject of a major CBC special in 1973 with music arranged by Moe Koffman and Peter Appleyard.
Billed as the "Greatest Singing Voices in Vaudeville", some of their earliest numbers were arranged by a young composer just beginning his career, George Gershwin. Comedians as well as singers, their 12 minute act featured much playful comedy, especially when one of the sisters discovered she could sing baritone. The Sisters were also natural atheletes, with Mary holding the World record for running the half mile. Their costumes were almost always mentioned in reviews of their act, some of their gowns costing up to $1,000.--an amazing sum for 1920.
The Sisters never let the world of show business erode their deep religious faith. They often sang on Sunday mornings at major churches as they travelled the country, "Leonard's Mass" being their favourite.
Mary, Anna, Ada, Kathleen, Vera & Nellie
Here are two songs that were a staple in their act. Ave Maria and Danny Boy, here performed by Celtic Women.
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