The LENNON SISTERS
Sisters, vocal group, television stars, concert performers, recording artists. Formed in 1955
Several years ago, I found a couple of records by a dumpster. A dumpster. One was Nat Cole’s first 12″ LP, Sings for Two in Love, and the other was Lawrence Welk’s Jingle Bells from 1957 with the excellent cover art. Two beauties to find in the trash, says I.
The Lawrence Welk is delightful; just the perfect kind of corn you want at Christmas. A couple of the songs feature the vocal stylings of the Lennon Sisters and this was the first time I had owned any of their music though I had heard of them before.
Fast forward a couple of years to Christmas time and I’m watching a Christmas episode of The Hollywood Palace, hosted by Bing Crosby and featuring among others the Lennon Sisters. I was fascinated by their clear, crisp tone and by their attractive appearance; especially that of Dianne, the oldest.
The Lennon family hails from Venice, California. Father Bill Lennon worked as a milkman and at a golf course; amazing when you consider that he and his wife, Isabelle, had eleven children! A high school classmate of the girls, Larry Welk, brought the girls in to sing for his father, Lawrence. The champagne maestro signed them up immediately and featured them on The Lawrence Welk Show that Christmas Eve, 1955; they were a mainstay of the show and members of Welk’s stable until 1968.
The Sisters scored their own show for the 1969-70 television season. Six weeks before the premiere of Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters Hour, the girls’ father was killed. Former psychiatric patient Chet Young believed he was married to Peggy Lennon and that her father was standing in the way of their happiness. The delusional Young had been stalking Peggy for years. On August 12, 1969, Young approached Mr. Lennon in the parking lot of the Venice Golf Course in Marina Del Ray where the Lennon sire worked. The two exchanged words and, as Lennon turned to leave, Young shot him twice in the back and then once in the head at close range before making his escape.
Those of you who are sharp-eyed will note the date of this murder. On August 8 and 9 of ’69, the Manson Family carried out their vicious acts of violence against members of the Hollywood community. This savage attack on Bill Lennon occurred 3 days later. Lennon’s murder has seemingly not resonated down through the years but for members of the entertainment community it must have been another frightening episode during that fateful summer that kept them on edge and contributed to the collapse of the golden era of Hollywood.
The Lennon family, of course, was devastated. They went into seclusion and were afforded around-the-clock security at least until the murderer was apprehended. For a full two months, police hunted the culprit; during this time the Lennon Sisters were obligated to begin their new show with Durante. In mid-October, the case was closed when Young was found, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound from the same gun that killed Bill Lennon. Young’s body lay in the trunk of his car amongst scores of fan magazines featuring the Lennon Sisters on the cover.
The early 1970’s saw the girls begin their affiliation with Andy Williams. They toured the country with Williams and appeared with him in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. In the 1990’s, the girls became one of the original acts to appear regularly in Branson, Missouri, “the live music show capital of the world”. They headlined at the Welk Champagne Theater for 18 years.
And here’s the thing I need you to “check out” about the Lennon Sisters. Known since 1955 for their unique vocal blend, three of the original five Lennon Sisters still perform regularly. Christmas of 2019 saw Osmond Brother, Jimmy, hosting the holiday shows at the Moon River Theatre in Branson that featured the Lennon Sisters; this is 64 years after the Sisters debuted on the Welk show.
Side note about the Osmonds: the Osmond Family consisted of nine children, most of whom went into show business. They were discovered by Andy Williams’ father and featured on Andy’s shows for years. They are devout Mormons. The Lennon Sisters – they of the 11-children family – hitched their star to Williams in the ’70’s and are devout Catholics. As of Christmas 2019, the Osmonds and Lennons are still aligned with Andy Williams. Added to this is the fact that the Osmonds produced a Christmas special that the Lennons did in 1978.
Oldest sisters Dianne (the prettiest) and Peggy have retired from performance but the trio of Kathy (born 1943), Janet (b. ’46) and Mimi (b. ’55) continue to perform into their 60’s and 70’s. Check out their website here. It’s also interesting to note that the Lennon boys have been in show business a long time, too. The band Venice was formed in 1977 by Kipp and Pat Lennon and by their first cousins, Michael and Mark; who’s own family consists of 13 children. What is it with the Lennons and procreation?! Venice – I defy anyone to claim to have heard of them – have performed or recorded with Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, Don Henley, Phil Collins, Sting, Cher, Dolly Parton, Bon Jovi and many others. Venice are huge in the Netherlands and also sang back-up for Roger Waters during his “The Wall Live Tour” from 2010 to 2013.
The Lennon Sisters have maintained a career in show business for over 60 years. Their’s is a fame that is not – and has never really been – mainstream. They have never enjoyed consistent success on the charts and have never sold many records. What they have done, though, is maintained their family values and a wholesome, untarnished image in an industry that tarnishes many regularly. They seem like decent people who have kept the family business going for a long time. Think about their lives there in Branson; famous enough to get the best tables in restaurants, but low profile enough to eat in peace.