65 years ago this coming Christmas Eve, The Lawrence Welk Show welcomed a winsome young quartet for their very first television appearance. The story goes that the host’s teenaged son brought Dianne, Peggy, Kathy, and Janet Lennon home to sing for him; their shimmering vocal harmonies won the elder Welk over and he quickly booked them to appear on his show. The response was so tremendous that The Lennon Sisters continued to appear every Saturday night with the “wunnerful, wunnerful” host until 1968 and began a cherished showbiz career that continues to this day. Along the way, “America’s sweethearts of song” recorded for labels including Brunswick, Coral, Dot, Mercury, and Ranwood, and inspired merchandise from dolls to coloring books.
In anticipation of the 65th anniversary of The Lennon Sisters’ debut, they’ll be returning to Public Television this weekend with the return of The Lennon Sisters: Same Song, Separate Voices. The 2011 documentary from Emmy Award-winning producers Rene Reyes and Shane Rosamonda has been freshly updated with new performances while still featuring the Lennons’ classic songs, home movies, and commentary from friends such as Kathie Lee Gifford and the late Andy Williams in one of his final television appearances. It’s a joyful and nostalgic tribute to their enduring talents.
That’s not all, though. In conjunction with the return of the special, Reyes and Rosamonda’s Polly O. Entertainment has curated three brand-new Lennon Sisters CD collections featuring previously unreleased recordings which will be available as pledge gifts during broadcasts of Same Song, Separate Voices. These titles are also available through The Lennon Sisters’ online shop.
- Ultimate Christmas Collection;
- Dream a Little Dream: The Classic Songbook Collection; and
- Feeling Good! The Broadway Album
Additionally, an exclusive Public Television DVD of the special will be available featuring the original 2011 version with alternate performances not seen on the 2020 iteration. The DVD also includes almost an hour of outtake material, featurettes, and the vintage unaired TV pilot Living with the Lennons.
Considering the Sisters made their television debut on a Christmas Eve, it’s only appropriate that a holiday offering is among the new releases. Ultimate Christmas Collection lives up to its name, with 25 selections spanning their first Christmas album in 1960 through a 2012 concert at Andy Williams’ Moon River Theatre. Whether the material is in a pop or traditional vein, The Lennon Sisters’ lustrous harmonies shine. The set is filled with tight harmonies, lush orchestrations, and holiday spirit to share. Alongside classic carols like “What Child Is This,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Holy Night,” and “Silent Night,” the collection features gorgeous renditions of more unexpected but no less delightful tunes. These holiday surprises include a number of songs associated with their friend Andy (“The Holiday Season/Happy Holiday,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells”), a tender reading of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Christmas Day” from their 1968 musical Promises, Promises, and an uplifting cover of Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman, and Jack Feldman’s “Because It’s Christmas” (first recorded on Manilow’s 1990 album of the same name). “Thank You for Your Love” from Broadway royalty Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ 1974 Portfolio Revue is another hidden treasure, as is the medley of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Willy Wonka standard “Pure Imagination” with the lesser-known “Christmas Children” from Bricusse’s score to the film Scrooge. The whole Lennon family, Lennon granddaughters, and fellow Welk performer (and Mr. Peggy Lennon) Dick Cathcart all make appearances on Ultimate Christmas Collection, and Kathy Lennon has written track-by-track notes sharing memories of the songs.
Dream a Little Dream: The Classic Songbook Collection takes a similarly expansive approach, with 20 cuts drawing on the various corners of the Great American Songbook. The tracks have been culled from pre-recordings for the Lennons’ 1969-70 ABC-TV variety show Jimmy Durante Presents The Lennon Sisters Hour on which they collaborated with George Wyle (composer of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and the Gilligan’s Island theme, to name two). As well as the dreamy title track, the girls offer a fun “Rain Medley” of standards (“Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Rain on the Roof,” “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella,” and “Rain”) on which they’re joined by The Osmonds, as well as great melodies from the Gershwins (“Love Walked In,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”), Cole Porter (“In the Still of the Night”), and Duke Ellington (“I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”).
In a more contemporary vein, the set showcases now-standards from Antonio Carlos Jobim (“The Girl from Ipanema”), Marcos Valle (“So Nice (Summer Samba)),” and Michel Legrand (“Watch What Happens,” “The Windmills of Your Mind”). Andy Williams dropped in to share the microphone for a slow, intimate, a cappella treatment of Bacharach and David’s “(They Long to Be) Close to You” in the same arrangement he performed with the Lennon Sisters during their live engagements. Jack Jones appears on Harry Warren and Arthur Freed’s slow-burning swinger “Coffee Time,” and both Gregory and Maurice Hines join the Sisters for an energetic romp through “Bluesette.” Like the Lennons’ sound, the music here is timeless; Charlie Chaplin’s poignant “Smile” has even become one of the songs most often invoked to provide solace during the COVID crisis. Kathy Lennon has again shared her remembrances for the liner notes.
With so many showtunes and movie tunes appearing on the two other collections, Feeling Good! The Broadway Album feels like a charming inevitability. Like Dream a Little Dream, it’s drawn from the rich performances of The Lennon Sisters Hour with 22 varied songs from the Great White Way in the early part of the 20th century right up through the 1960s. The title track is Newley and Bricusse’s impassioned anthem from The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, sung with a light jazz-vocal flair by the Lennons. Stephen Sondheim and Richard Rodgers’ “Do I Hear a Waltz?” from the 1965 musical of the same name (on which the girls are joined by a male chorus) charms with joyous abandon. Kathy takes the lead on Jerry Herman’s moving “If He Walked Into My Life” (a Grammy Award winner for Eydie Gorme) from Mame, bringing out the bluesiest qualities in her pristine voice. The set balances uptempo confections (a playful “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” a groovy “Lucky Day”) with affecting balladry (the romantic likes of “My Cup Runneth Over” and “They Say It’s Wonderful”). There are some genuine rarities, too, such as “Two Ladies in the Shade of the Banana Tree,” from the Harold Arlen/Truman Capote score to House of Flowers. While the musical premiered in 1954, it might have been on the Lennons’ radar via its 1968 New York revival. Similarly, a medley from Burton Lane and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg’s 1947 Finian’s Rainbow would have been inspired by the 1968 film adaptation.
Like the other two CDs, there are some special guests here. Mel Tormé brings his velvet tone to an intricately-arranged take on Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s sweeping “All the Things You Are,” and Al Martino softly croons Jones and Schmidt’s “Try to Remember.” Leslie Uggams swaggers through a boisterous “If My Friends Could See Me Now” from Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ Sweet Charity. On these tracks where the Sisters ostensibly support their guest star, their exquisite artistry comes into sharpest focus. Their vocals don’t overpower but aren’t “mere” support, either; their billowy sound is smooth but deceptive in its simplicity.
While Peggy and Dianne are now retired, The Lennon Sisters continue to entertain today with younger sister Mimi joining Kathy and Janet. All three CDs showcase the quartet’s beguiling blend and are a frothy tonic for today’s times, or “champagne music” as their old friend Lawrence Welk might have put it. The discs are housed in attractively-designed digipaks with numerous photos of the artists. They have all been mastered by Mike Milchner.
The Lennon Sisters: Same Song, Separate Voices begins airing this weekend nationwide on Public Television stations, and the three CD collections can be ordered as part of the fund-raising pledge drive with a donation to any participating station or directly from their online store. See below for the track listings, and check local listings for the broadcast!
Click here for a promo video for the TV special, or watch below!
The Lennon Sisters, Ultimate Christmas Collection (Polly O, 2020)
- The Christmas Waltz (feat. the Lennon granddaughters)
- The Christmas Song/Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
- The Holiday Season/Happy Holiday
- My Favorite Things
- Christmas Time Is Here
- Christmas Medley: Deck the Halls/We Wish You a Merry Christmas/Joy to the World
- White Christmas
- Winter Wonderland
- Thank You for Your Love (feat. Peggy Lennon & Dick Cathcart)
- What Child Is This/Away in a Manger
- O Holy Night
- Christmas Day (feat. the Lennon family)
- The Little Drummer Boy (feat. the Lennon family)
- Pure Imagination/Christmas Children
- The Best Gift
- Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod)
- A Cradle in Bethlehem
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas
- It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (feat. the Lennon family)
- Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells
- The Star Carol
- Silent Night
- Merry Christmas (From Our House to Your House) (feat. the Lennon family)
- Because It’s Christmas (feat. the Lennon granddaughters)
The Lennon Sisters, Dream a Little Dream: The Classic Songbook Collection (Polly O, 2020)
- I Don’t Know Why/Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams/Dream a Little Dream of Me
- Watch What Happens
- Coffee Time (with Jack Jones)
- More (Theme from Mondo Cane)
- The Windmills of Your Mind/Goin’ Out of My Head
- The Very Thought of You/I’m Glad There Is You
- So Nice (Summer Samba) (feat. Dianne Lennon)
- Canadian Sunset
- I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
- The Girl from Ipanema (feat. Kathy Lennon and Buddy Merrill)
- Rain Medley (with The Osmonds)
- Love Walked In
- Let’s Dance, Let’s Dance, Let’s Dance (feat. Janet Lennon)
- That’s All
- They Can’t Take That Away from Me
- In the Still of the Night
- Softly as I Leave You
- Bluesette (Live) (with Gregory Hines and Maurice Hines)
- (They Long to Be) Close to You (with Andy Williams)
The Lennon Sisters, Feeling Good! The Broadway Album (Polly O, 2020)
- Feeling Good
- Ain’t Misbehavin’
- Where or When
- All the Things You Are (with Mel Torme)
- My Cup Runneth Over
- Our Language of Love (feat. Kathy Lennon)
- Two Ladies in the Shade of the Banana Tree
- It’s Only a Paper Moon
- Look for the Silver Lining/I’m Always Chasing Rainbows
- Finian’s Rainbow Medley
- My Funny Valentine (feat. Kathy Lennon)
- Do I Hear a Waltz
- Try to Remember (with Al Martino)
- The Heather on the Hill
- If My Friends Could See Me Now (with Leslie Uggams)
- ‘S Wonderful
- Baubles, Bangles, and Beads
- Love Is a Very Light Thing
- They Say It’s Wonderful
- Love in a Home
- If He Walked Into My Life (feat. Kathy Lennon)
- Lucky Day