On This Day, December 7th in 1962 a singing duo of sisters made their third of four appearances on TV. They’d be snapped up and recorded by Creed Taylor for an M.G.M album. Just when you think you’ve heard all the vocalists Creed Taylor produced, along comes another one, or in this case two. This album was hiding in plain sight on Discogs. No one had tagged Creed as the producer, so it didn’t show up in searches.
The first question I had was, who were the “Little Sisters”, closely followed by and what happened to them?
Performing sisters were a big thing in 1962. Capitol Records were still selling Judy Garland in the “Gumm Sisters”. Cadence Records had the Wright Sisters. Nashboro Records had the Holmes Sisters. The McGuire Sisters, who had been on the Coral label for 11 years, were looking for a new label and would record an album produced by Bob Thiele for Creed’s old label, ABC Paramount. Columbia had the Beverly Sisters. Ember Records had the English “Dale Sisters”; Phillips had another UK sister act, the Kaye Sisters who were popular on TV in the USA. A package of Capitol Records stars had been touring Germany, including the four King Sisters. The Paris Sisters, produced by Phil Spector, ranked #14 as the Best Vocal Group (Singles) in 1962. And of course, the Andrews Sisters, some 20 years on, were still going strong for DOT Records, as were DOT’s other sisters the Lennons.
Perhaps more interestingly, around the same time this album was released, Carly Simon, yes that Carly Simon, and her sister Lucy would start performing as the “Simon Sisters” in the Greenwich Village folk scene https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Simon_Sisters. They would appear in April 1963 in the ABC TV Series “Hootenanny,” more on this later. Mary Travers, another legendary folk singer of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, like the Little Sisters was also from Kentucky. While Peter, Paul & Mary would have also been active around Greenwich Village at this time, there is no evidence that the Little Sisters ever met Mary or the Simon Sisters. Then again, there is no evidence that they didn’t meet!
It’s easy to see an A&R man, possibly Creed Taylor, being dispatched to find a “sister act” for M.G.M, press play and read on.
E/SE-4116 – The Joys of Love – Little Sisters  Cuckoo/Where Does It Lead/Shady Grove/Long Time Gone/Hobo’s Lullaby/Bile Them Cabbage Down/Black Girl/Red Apple Juice/When I Was a Young Girl/Never Will I Marry/Goin’ To Boston/Old Woman https://www.bsnpubs.com/mgm/mgm40014200.html.
The cover photograph is a classic Chuck Stewart portrait. Close-up, uncluttered, well lit. Patty/Pat/Patricia Little is seen in the background, laughing, with Mary Little in the foreground.
The album was recorded in New York City, possibly around Christmas 1962 or early January, just three months before Taylor, with the same engineers Phil Ramone and Val Valentin, would record the legendary Getz/Gilberto sessions featuring the “Girl From Ipanema.” It’s probable that it was recorded at the same W48th St A&R Studios.
The arrangements were by Billy Mure https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Mure, an agile guitarist who played and recorded across many genres and on hits by Paul Anka, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and many others. In 1963, Mure would record a leader album for MGM, “Teen Bossa Nova” – E/S-4131 https://www.discogs.com/master/731439-Billy-Mures-Supersonic-Guitars-Teen-Bossa-Nova.
Much of what was previously known of the sisters comes from the MGM album sleeve notes, written by Johnny Carson, yes that Johnny Carson. Carson informs us that “the Little Sisters are actually sisters. Mary is 22 and Patty is 21. Each girl is married; Mary to a poet who speaks only Spanish (she speaks only English) and Patty to an artist. They live in Greenwich Village, New York City. Their father is a cartoonist. Their grandmother was a vaudeville artist.”
Cash Box Magazine – December 15th, 1962 – Page 33
NEW YORK—The two young ladies above Pat and Mary, ages 20 and 21, known as the Little Sisters, have been signed by MGM Records. The girls received national TV exposure through their many appearances on the “Tonight” TV show. Their first single couples “Going To Boston” and “Where Does It Lead.” An album tagged “The Joys Of Love” will be issued in January.
From a review of the album in the Louisville Courier-Journal, 17th February, 1963 all we additionally learn is that the young ladies were from Carroll County, Kentucky and it confirms their surname is “Little”. Merrill McCord, Courier-Journal Staff Writer wasn’t overwhelmed, the article entitled “Spinning The Pops” read as follows:
ONE OF the most popular discoveries” of TV’s “The Tonight Show” this season have been two young sisters who say they hail from Carroll County, Kentucky. They are Mary and Patty Little, folk singers.
After the girls made a couple of successful appearances on the television program late last year, M.G.M. Records grabbed them and put them into an album called “The Joys of Love.”
Unfortunately, the main appeal of the Little Sisters is not their singing but their naiveness and childlike mannerisms as brought out in the chats with host Johnny Carson on the TV show. This obviously is the reason for the big reception they received and for their invitation to come back.
Style On Odd Side
Although the sisters, now live in Greenwich Village, are a delight to watch and hear in small talk, their singing needs much professional maturing. And their style of singing and the songs they sing are too much on the odd side.
M.G.M., however, surrounded the girls with some excellent instrumental backing for their debut album, and has come up with a very flattering program. The numbers are supposedly authentic folk songs from Kentucky, Virginia, and the Carolinas.Louisville, KY Courier-Journal, 17th February, 1963 – Merrill McCord
CASH BOX February 16th, 1963
THE JOYS OF LOVE”—Little Sisters—MGM E 4116
The Little Sisters, who received wide national exposure via their highly-touted appearances on the “Tonight” TV’er, display an impressive, refreshing pop-folk singing style on this their premiere MGM LP outing. The girls do not rely on gimmicks but go through their musical paces in a delightful, straightforward manner. Topflight tracks here include “Where Does It Lead,” “Bile Cabbage Down” and “Goin’ To Boston.” Package could develop into a big item.
The album is a delightful, if short jaunt through many folk songs, now lost in the sands of time. The production by Taylor and arrangements by Mure are perfectly understated. Although my copy of the album is not in great condition, I hope you can appreciate the tracks. As noted, the vocals are a mix of lightweight and fun, but serve a useful purpose to convey the optimism of the early 1960’s. That is in stark contrast to the Parkway “The Twist” 45RPM which was purely a novelty/gimmick track.
The Tonight Show
On October 1st, 1962, after a few speed bumps in his career, Johnny Carson took over “The Tonight Show” from Jack Paar https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tonight_Show. Carson would go on to host the show for some 30-years. In the first year on the show, Carson and his producers focused on new, young talent. At that point, “Tonight” was filmed in NYC, Barbara Streisand was across Times Square in her first role in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Can_Get_It_for_You_Wholesale, and she was one of the early guests of Carson and on December 13th, 1962. A Buffalo NY newspaper said of Streisand “her most lucrative TV offer followed her informal appearance on “Tonight,” in which she not only sang, but chatted with Johnny Carson about her bizarre adventures in getting a start in show business.” Tonawanda News, 13 Dec 1962, Thu ·Page 17.
In the same report, Roger Miller is described as a “young country and Western singer” and said he’d been asked to record an album after appearing on “Tonight” – it also said that the “zanny” Little Sisters, blondes from Kentucky who specialize in offbeat folk songs had been signed.
The Little Sisters appeared on the Carson show at four times in 1962, not three as commonly quoted. I have confirmed this across multiple publications including newspaper TV listings and the Ross Report Television Index for 1962 (New York, [N. Y.] : Television Index, Inc.)
October 15th Guests Rosemary Clooney, The Little Sisters, Roger Miller, Fontana Fashion show.
November 13th Guests Comic Phil Leeds, singer Virginia Wing and The Little Sisters, a teenage singing duo.
December 7th Guests Clyde Beatty, Irwin Corey, Phyllis McGuire and the Little Sisters. (Color).
December 26th Guests Dorothy Dandridge, Don Cherry and The Little Sisters (Color).
Their discography shows only two 45RPM/7-inch singles issued, the first a 1960 cover of “Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” done in sped-up Chipmunk style I tried slowing down the vocals, changing the pitch, and honestly, it was hard to hear it was two young women! released by Parkway Records https://www.discogs.com/release/8480746-The-Little-Sisters-2-Little-Sis-The-Twist-The-Pony.
Reviewed in Billboard November 21st, 1960
“THE LITTLE SISTERS
★★★★ The Twist — PARKWAY 815— Electronic high-pitched fem voices — a la the
Chipmunks— chant vivaciously on the recent hit. Watch it. Chubby Checker Contributes brief vocal seg. (Jay & Cee-Armon, BMI) (2:15)
★★★ The Pony — More electronic piping on a bouncy ditty. (Kalmann, ASCAP) (2:28)”
The MGM album yielded a 45RPM/7-inch single “Where Does It Lead/Goin’ to Boston”. Billboard, December 15th, 1962 reported “The duo appeared on “Tonight” December 7 -their third appearance-to plug their first MGM single, “Going to Boston” b/w “Where Does It Lead.”
“Following up this lead, MGM has been rushing copies of the disk to distributors and dealers in key markets, and pushing it to deejays. The Little Sisters are scheduled for a round of personal appearances in prime record markets and guest shots on radio-TV
Where Does It Lead/Goin’ to Boston, The Little Sisters (MGM) — The lyrics on “Where” make it, along with its style element, the strong side. It’s an awful strong sound these ladies get while singing, but it’s got just, maybe, the right sound for the hit charts. Who knows?TV Radio Mirror, JANUARY, 1963 – MIDWEST EDITION VOL. 59, NO. 2 – On The Record Column, Page 24 Motion Picture and Television Reading Room – www.loc.gov/rr/mopic
In 1962, the pilot of the TV Series “Hootenanny” on ABC had been filmed at Syracuse University in New York https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hootenanny_(TV_series). Carly Simon and her sister Lucy would appear as the “Simon Sisters” on the April 27th, 1963 show. Also in 1963, the ABC show producer would refuse to include Pete Seeger in TV filming for political reasons, and Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and others would, as a result also refuse to appear. It’s important to remember that August 1963 would see the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”. While the TV series would run for two seasons and be effectively ended by the changing music scene in America brought on by the “British Invasion” and Beatlemania https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Invasion there is no doubt that the producers misjudged the mood of the time.
The October 16th, 1963 issue of Variety included an advertisement by the “Jolly Joyce Agency” 58 W 48th St. NYC for “Hootenanny Varieties” of 1963-’64” A “sensational fast-moving two hour spectacular featuring Jimmy Case and his Cherokees with Mary Little, other stars included Sister Rosetta Tharpe.”
“Going To Boston” was included on a 1963 MGM compilation album “Hootenanny” E/SE-4154 that had nothing to do with the ABC show, and a perfect example of the type of commercial exploitation of the folk scene that Pete Seeger and others were rebelling against. 1963 would see dozens of “hootenanny” albums, both individual artists, groups and compilations https://www.discogs.com/search/?q=hootenanny&type=all&decade=1960&year=1963&format_exact=LP.
As a footnote. The MGM Orchestra of the late 40’/50’s had backing singers who were also known as the “Little Sisters”. They appeared on the MGM Soundtrack recording of Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade” and are credited on later recordings of the track ” Shaking The Blues Away” sung by Anne Miller. Patty and Mary Little would have only been 8-years old and this is not the same “Little Sisters”. Unless you know otherwise?
And that was all I expected to find before publishing this entry. However a comment by RobTheRecordGuy (discogs.com) suggested that a post on the Culture Catch website would be worth reading.
Under the title “The Joys Of Wonderful, Obscure Folk Music Finds” the website Culture Clash published an article by fellow Brit’ Robert Cochraine. Cochraine wrote about his discovery of the Little Sisters album. It’s a brief review and includes much same information from the Johnny Carson sleeve notes. The review on Culture Catch is dated September 6th, 2019.
It didn’t though provide the insight that had been hinted by RobTheRecord guys comment on discogs.
It turns out that Culture Catch had done a major website update sometime after 2015. In the process all the comments from at least this review were removed/lost. The original post by Cochraine was in fact dated August 2nd, 2006.
I went back through archive.org and it revealed some delightful additional details. The original comments included the following https://web.archive.org/web/20150602230428/http://culturecatch.com/music/little-sisters-joys-love-mgm-records-1963
I know the sister who is laughing in the background. Pat is indeed a grandmother now. I used to love listening to their album and listening to the stories that went along with how they were able to get a hold of the songs. One story in particular is when they were performing at the Blue Note in NYC back in the early sixties. The Little Sisters were on stage singing when Pat noticed Tina Louise (Ginger Grant in "Gilligan's Island) walking into the smoky room with Bob Dylan. They performed everywhere, even at The Apollo in Harlem! Well, actually, they were pulled off the stage with a giant hook before they were able to sing one note! Alas, The Little Sisters never bestowed us the pleasure of a second album... I found a copy of their record, in mint condition, at The Colony, a vintage record store in Times Square, NYC. Pat now has that copy of their album. February 4, 2009 - 23:25 — RANDINO
I am Pat Little from the Little Sisters. Dear Robert, Thank you so much for your beautiful and kind words about our album. I'm Pat, the one laughing on the cover. I did the harmony. After all this time has passed, it touches my heart that you liked our songs. "Cuckoo" and "Black Girl" are my favorites too. And I always liked "House of the Rising Sun". We sang that alot in coffee houses and clubs around The Village, also in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. One of our songs was banned from the radio for being too sad. It was a song called, "Go Tell Aunt Betsy" ( The ol gray goose is dead ). It was a song our Grandma used to sing to us when we were small children. The actor/ folk singer, Theodore Bitel broadcast a radio show from his Gramacy Park Apt. every Sunday night. He used to play our songs. When he played "Go Tell Aunt Betsy", The Radio Commission said it was too sad. The song "Gloomy Sunday" had people jumping out of windows during the Depression. They were concerned it would do the same. We were very surpised. When we started out in The Village our favorite coffee houses were: Folk City (Bob Dylan's favorite), The Bitter End, The Fat Black Cat, and Charlie's Cafe. At Charlie's we were singing waitresses. The coffee houses had a "Hootnanny" every Monday night. Folk singers, musicians, poets and comedians would get up on stage to perform their material, then pass a hat around for tips. We didn't get a salary, we just worked for tips. It was a hard time, but exciting. At the end of the night we would all jam together, sometimes for hours. 12 string guitars, banjos, flutes, fiddles and drums. We had the great pleasure of meeting Bob Dylan, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, The Clancy Brothers (from Ireland), Theodore Bikel (from Israel), Dino Valente, Rosemary Clooney, Dorothy Danridge, and of course Johnny Carson. He was a really lovely man. Thanks again Robert and Dusty. I'll look forward to reading your book Robert, "Gone Tomorrow". I am a Grandma now, with two fine Grandchildren. Yours Truly, Pat Little March 29, 2009 - 20:40
I knew Mary Little some forty years ago when she lived in Inwood with her husband and three beautiful children, Becky, Monique and Jean-Paul. She was a wonderful person who taught me to play the guitar when I was about thirteen years old. I met her in the playground where she would sit with her children and would often bring her guitar to play. The last time I saw her was about 1971 and I have thought about her often over the years. I am so sorry to hear about her passing. She was an artist as well and drew clever sketches of her children. She gave me a copy of the album. We were friends -- she came with her family for dinner and she even came to my sweet sixteen party. I have never forgotten her kindness and beautiful persona. Her teaching me the guitar helped me to get into a special high school for which I am ever grateful to her. May 25, 2009 - 21:57 — Joyce Ellman
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Updates: December 9th, 2023 – details from Variety about Mary Little in Hootenanny Variations.