Coming in the wake of the first peacetime conscription in US history, this song was originally written for Lou Costello (of Abbott & Costello) to perform in the duo’s first movie, the 1941 comedy Buck Privates. Costello was given another song, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was reworked for the Andrews Sisters, who were on contract with the studio.
It was nominated for an Academy Award.
Hailing from Minneapolis, the Andrews Sisters performed from 1925-1967. The group consisted of three sisters — contralto LaVerne Sophia Andrews, soprano Maxene Anglyn Andrews, and mezzo-soprano Patricia Marie Andrews. With legendary close harmonies, the trio sold more than 80 million records over their career. The jump-blues song today was their biggest hit.
That’s not to say they didn’t have other massive hits:
- They recorded 47 songs with Bing Crosby, 23 of which made the Billboard charts, including million-sellers like “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” and “Jingle Bells”
- As a trio, they had major hits with “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else But Me),” “Beer Barrel Polka,” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” (which popularized calypso music)
- In total, the sisters had 113 charted Billboard hits, 46 of which reached Top 10 status, which is more than Elvis or the Beatles
- They were also in 17 major Hollywood films, more than any other singing group in motion picture history
This impressive list only confirms what a massive hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was for the group.
Two years after Buck Privates, the Andrews Sisters sang the tune again in the 1943 movie Swingtime Johnny, playing themselves as factory workers moonlighting as nightclub singers. At one point, they try to prove who they are by singing along as it plays on a sidewalk radio. But no one believes them, including a man who says, “Every time three dames get together, they think they’re the Andrews Sisters.”
Confusion about the identity of the actual boogie woogie bugle boy has led to a mistaken monument in Michigan, and a talented trumpeter becoming famous in the 1980s and ’90s playing the role (he had the most plausible claim). In any event, it’s a fun microcosm story to contemplate.
The song charted again in 1972 thanks to Bette Midler. It has been covered many times over the years. It inspired both En Vogue to record a version about a “boogie woogie hip-hop boy” on their 1990 debut album, and Ernie from Sesame Street to christen Rubber Duckie “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Duck of Sesame Street.” It also made an appearance in 2015’s Pitch Perfect 2.
The lyrics are a delight, with this sample provided to help you lock them in:
They made him blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam
It really brought him down because he couldn’t jam
The Captain seemed to understand
Because the next day the Cap’ went out and drafted a band
And now the company jumps when he plays reveille
He’s the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B