Posted on: July 22, 2013

  • In: Uncategorized

On first reading about The Cherry Sisters, I couldn’t help being reminded of those terrible acts you get in the early rounds of The X-Factor. It’s not hard to picture Simon Cowell’s face on being confronted with these four dour-looking farm-girls from Iowa. The Cherry Sisters had an act that was notoriously bad, and yet (surprise!) they packed in audiences until it was standing-room only. At the same time though they were regularly hit with rotten vegetables, and once even had a fire-extinguisher fired at them. Things became so bad that it was rumoured that a mesh screen had to be erected between them and their audience, although the girls always denied this.

Addie, Effie, Lizzie and Jessie turned to the stage when their parents died, and their brother Nathan (although I’ve also seen him recorded as Isaac) mysteriously disappeared. The girls invented an act called “Something Good, Something Sad”, which was made up of patriotic and religious songs, interspersed with little moral homilies. One part of their act was said to consist of Jessie being suspended from a cross.

They shot to fame when musical impressario Oscar Hammerstein announced, as a publicity ploy to stave off bankruptcy, “I’ve been putting on the best talent, and it hasn’t gone over. I’m going to try the worst”. And the girls were ushered onto stage, all clad in red dresses, bonnets and mittens, and accompanied by a big drum.

His gamble paid off. In strictly box-office terms the girls were a sensation, although their efforts were met with scathing reviews from the press. They were ungallantly referred to as “the four freaks from Iowa”, “creatures surpassing the witches in Macbeth in general hideousness”, and their singing as like “the wailing of damned souls”. The girls sued one newspaper for this last remark. Their case was thrown out though when the judge saw their act.

They eventually retired, around the start of the First World War, and wisely left the stage to run a bakery in Cedar Rapids. I suppose the moral of their story is that a bad act doesn’t necessarily mean poor box-office returns!



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