The Lennon Sisters: In harmony for 67 years

The Lennon Sisters

Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Ln, Oakbrook Terrace

1:30 p.m. Feb. 10 and Feb. 11

$65; lunch/theater packages available

(630) 530-0111 or drurylane.com or

TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000

The Lennon Sisters have never stopped singing. From their television debut on “The Lawrence Welk Show” in 1955, through the 1960s and beyond when they made personal appearances in every state but Alaska, they so enchanted the public that they were christened “America’s Sweethearts of Song.”

Originally they were a quartet, but there are three of them singing now — all sisters. “This is our 67th year performing,” said Kathy Lennon, the third of the original four and spokesman for the group. “At first it was Dianne, Peggy, myself and Janet, and now its me, Janet and one of our younger sisters Mimi.”

Their repertoire will be broad, with Broadway show tunes, including “Somewhere” from “West Side Story,” vintage 1940s music, Big Band numbers and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” made famous by the Andrew Sisters, as well as some of Rosemary Clooney’s biggest hits.

“We do songs made popular by the girl groups in the 1960s,” Lennon continued, “plus songs that Andy Williams sang.” They are also known for their spiritual and inspirational songs.

At the conclusion of the show they come to the lobby and talk to fans. “We sign autographs and have the best time meeting people,” Lennon added. “So many people have said they grew up with us and have so many happy memories of our appearances on ‘Lawrence Welk.’ It’s very gratifying.”

The Lennon sisters grew up in a two-bedroom house in Venice, Calif. “My Dad was a milkman,” Kathy said, “which was a good thing because there were eleven of us, six of us girls. We sang together as we were doing the dishes.”

Their father William also had a lovely voice. “An Irish tenor who sang with his brothers at the Hollywood Bowl,” she said. He encouraged his four older daughters as they harmonized the popular songs of the day. “We sang at our church, St. Mark’s in Venice,” she continued, “and for the Rotary Club, the Lions. We were just the Lennon girls who happened to sing.”

That all changed when Larry Welk, son of popular television entertainer Lawrence Welk, heard his classmate Dianne Lennon sing with her sisters. “I’m going to tell my Dad about you,” he famously said. “So Larry collected us and took us to their home in Brentwood,” Kathy said. “I remember it was Spanish style with iron gates.”

Welk was not feeling well that day, so he was home resting. “Larry took us into his Dad’s bedroom and we sang for him,” she explained. “He engaged us right then and there for his 1955 Christmas Eve special. It was our only audition.”

Millions of Americans were watching Welk’s live musical variety show on Saturday nights, and they fell in love with smiling, unassuming girls, at that time aged 9 to 16. They appeared on the Welk show for 13 years and sang for all seven United States presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. They appeared with crooner Perry Como, comedians Bob Hope and Jack Benny, and Gene Kelly to mention a few.

“But our parents never sent us to the Hollywood school,” Kathy said. “We were not part of the show business crowd. We went to the Catholic school in Venice.”

In their early years, there were Lennon Sisters paper dolls. They landed commercial endorsements and were on the cover of every movie or television magazine in the country. They also became tabloid fodder, but their fame came with a terrible price. In 1969 their beloved father William was shot and killed by a mentally deranged young man who had been stalking Peggy.

The girls, their mother and siblings endured. “We were a family first and singing was only a part of our lives,” Kathy said. “We all kept on going.”

As they grew up their harmonies became more sophisticated and so did their costumes. “We’ve had so much fun with beads and fringe,” she confided, adding that their gowns have been designed by Ret Taylor, who worked closely with Bob Mackie, the creator of glamorous evening clothes worn for years by Hollywood celebrities.

But the young women were also adventurous. At one point, they shed their beautiful evening dresses on stage and danced around in corsets. Their producer told them it would show off their beautiful legs and — just for fun — they concurred.

One by one they married and had children. Younger sister Mimi became the stand-in singer whenever her older sisters were on maternity leave. For 10 years they toured with Andy Williams, appearing in Las Vegas and singing at his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Mo. Eventually several of them made their home base in that Midwestern entertainment mecca and they are now regulars at the Welk Theatre in Branson, coming full circle from their first engagements.

The location has proved to be a good fit. “Branson is a family place,” Kathy declared, “There is nothing in the shows to offend anyone. These are good, old fashioned variety shows.”

The Lennon Sisters can also be seen on You Tube, from a black and white tape of their hit “Tonight You Belong to Me” in the 1950s to their appearances well into the 21st century.

They hit the road again in 2011 as a trio with Mimi as a permanent member. “We have been enjoying it so much,” Kathy confirmed. “It is such a treat to meet people who have been our fans for so many years. Signing autographs and talking to them is almost as much fun as singing.”

The Lennon Sisters Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace 1:30 p.m. Feb. 10 and Feb. 11 $65; lunch/theater packages available (630) 530-0111 or drurylane.com or TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000

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