Who are the Chordettes?
Forever to be remembered for their hit song “Mr. Sandman,” The Chordettes are considered one of the most popular close-harmony singing groups of all time. They were formed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in the mid-1940s. The group consisted of Janet Ertel and her sister in-law Carol Buschmann, Dorothy Schwartz (later to be replaced by Lynn Evans, later Lynn Evans Mand), and Jinny Osborne (who was replaced by Margie Needham, later Margie Needham Latzko, when Osborne gave birth, but she returned later to the group). In 1949, they won on Talent Scouts, a radio show hosted by Arthur Godfrey, and this paved the way for The Chordettes’ signing at Columbia Records.
Their first single was “Mr. Sandman” in 1954, which went to #1. They also had other hits such as “Lollipop” (#2 on the pop charts), “Just between You and Me” (at #8) and “Born to Be with You” (at #5), among others. Osborn left the group in 1961, which led to their eventual breakup. The Chordettes were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.
Formation of the group, and first big break
All-girl harmony vocal group The Chordettes were formed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin during the mid-1940s. The original members were Jinny Osborn, Janet Ertel, Carol Buschmann, and Dorothy Schwartz.
Jinny Osborn was born Virginia Cole on April 25, 1928, the daughter of the president of The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America Inc., now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society. Through her father, Osborn had learned close-harmony singing.
After their formation, The Chordettes began making rounds on the local music circuit in Sheboygan. Originally, they used to sing folk songs but with Jinny Osborn and her father’s influence, the group switched to harmony singing. In 1949, they got their big break when they won on Arthur Godfrey’s radio talent show Talent Scouts. The Chordettes became regulars on Godfrey’s popular television show, singing in their characteristically harmonious, a cappella barbershop style.
“Mr. Sandman” and following hits
The Chordettes signed with Columbia Records, and released their debut album Harmony Encores in 1952. Godfrey’s musical director and orchestra leader was Archie Bleyer, who had just established his own new label Cadence Records. The Chordettes became one of the label’s first artists. Bleyer also became Janet Ertel’s husband around the same time. Her daughter, Jackie, married Phil Everly of the Everyly Brothers.
In 1952, Schwartz left and was replaced by Lynn Evans, and the following year Margie Needham temporarily replaced Osborn, who was just starting to have a family.
The Chordettes scored their second Top Ten hit with “Born to Be with You” in 1956. Written by Don Robertson, the single went to #5 on the Hot 100, and #8 on the UK singles chart. Their third Top Ten single, “Just between You and Me,” peaked at #8 in 1957. It was penned by Lee Cathy and Jack Keller.
“Lollipop” was The Chordettes’ far more successful version of a Ronald & Ruby original, which was written by Beverly Ross and Julius Dixson. Their version was distinguished by its popping sound. It became the Chordettes’ final Top Ten hit, and their best-performing single as well. It went to #2 on the pop singles chart, and even climbed as high as #3 on the R&B charts.
Other pop hits, and dissolution
The group also had other singles that became substantial hits: “Eddie My Love” (#14 pop), their cover of Teen Queen original “Lay Down Your Arms” (#16 pop), “Zorro” (#17 pop), “No Other Arms, No Other Lips” (#27 pop), and “Never On Sunday” (#13 pop).
The Chordettes also attempted to capture the audience of the then-newfound rock and roll genre by covering originally rock songs (or at least songs with some rock semblance). They included “Charlie Brown” (The Coasters), “Lonely Boy” (Paul Anka) and “Pink Shoelaces” (Dodie Stevens).
Jinny Osborn left the Chordettes in 1961. The group attempted to continue but they couldn’t find a suitable replacement. They broke up shortly afterwards.
In later years, Carol Buschmann and Margie Latzko are the only surviving members left, as of this writing. The Chordettes, one of pop history’s longest-living vocal groups during their time, was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.