On Christmas Eve 1955 The Lennon Sisters made their television debut and were formally introduced to the world. Now in 2020, the longest performing sister act of all time is celebrating their 65th Anniversary in the entertainment business this Christmas with the release of three new albums and an updated television special.
Kathy Lennon said the sisters came from a musical family and grew up listening to their father and uncles who performed as The Lennon Brothers.
“Dianne is the oldest, then Peggy, then (me), then Janet. That’s the four oldest. We have 11 brothers and sisters. There are 11 of us,” said Lennon. “We were children and we would hear dad with his brothers rehearse. They would walk away knowing their arrangements and so did we. We had trained ears and we could copy them.”
Before The Lennon Sisters made their first appearance on television, Lennon shared that the sisters first got their start performing for local area organizations in Venice, California.
“Our church put on a musical and everybody performed in it. My dad and his brothers sang in it and they asked if we would sing in it in a little group,” said Lennon. “Daddy was a milk man for Edgemar Farms and his boss was in the audience and he said, ‘You know the girls sound so beautiful, would they come and sing for the Lions Club and we’d pay them like $10?’ At the time we were in a two bedroom, one bath little house with eight children, mom, dad and our grandmother. Daddy said, ‘Oh boy, if you guys want to do that we can start adding a dormitory onto the house.’ All the sudden we started doing that. We sung a few little songs at the Lions Club and they asked us to the Rotary and they asked us different places and we’d pick up $10 here, $5 here.”
Lennon shared that their opportunity to perform on television for the first time was the result of her sister Dianne’s friendship with classmate Larry Welk Jr., who had come to one of their performances to take Dianne to a Halloween Party afterward.
“So Larry shows up at this Lions Club and he hears us sing and he said, ‘I didn’t know you sang with your sisters. I thought you sang in a big choral group or something,’” said Lennon. “Then he said, ‘You know my dad (Lawrence Welk) has a television show on ABC and he’s looking for talent, I’m going to tell him about you.’”
About a month later, Lennon said they received a call from Larry, inviting them over to his house to perform for his father who was stuck at home sick with a cold at the time.
“We all drove up there with daddy and we got in front of their house and it was just their gorgeous Spanish kind of mansion and we walked in and met Mrs. Welk, who was so sweet, and Larry and then Mr. Welk walked out of the bedroom. Indeed he had been sick. He had on a maroon satin smoking jacket and maroon velvet slippers. It was just like out of a movie. He walked in and said, ‘Girls, my son has been telling me all about you. Sing.’ It was like that fast,” said Lennon. “So I went over and hit a note and we sang, ‘He can turn the tide and calm the angry seas.’ We sang that and he said, ‘My, my. Let me call my musical director and have him hear you. So he called him and on the phone we sang and he said, ‘Wow, they’re great.’ He said, ‘Would you girls be on my Christmas show?’”
On Dec. 24, 1955, Dianne, 15, Peggy, 14, Kathy, 12, and Janet, 9, performed on the Christmas episode of The Lawrence Welk Show for the first time. Lennon said they then returned to perform on Welk’s show every Saturday night for the next 13 years.
“From there we had our own television show called, ‘Jimmy Durante presents The Lennon Sisters Hour’ and that also was on ABC. We were on that show for over a year. We had a great show, with incredible guests. There was Bob Hope, George Burns, Jack Benny, the old vaudevillians, because of Jimmy Durante. We were still pretty young and starting with our families,” Lennon said. “We ended up doing that television show and then Andy Williams asked us to be on his show. We were on his show probably 10 times through the years and then he asked us to go to Las Vegas with him and we worked at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for over 10 years.”
In the 1990’s, Lennon said the sisters found themselves being introduced to Branson for the first time.
“Here in Branson, what a community. We have just loved it. Everybody opened their arms to us. Andy Williams and John Davidson and Tony Orlando called us and said, ‘You guys need to come here. You need to be in Branson.’ Of course our first statement was, ‘What is Branson? What is that?’ Then Andy told us all about it,” said Lennon. “When Larry Welk Jr. decided to open a theatre here … in about 1992, 1993 we were doing Christmas specials and a few things, but we were basically retiring. We had written our book. We had done a special. Larry called and said, ‘Will you come to Branson.’ So it was full circle. He brought us to his dad and he brought us to Branson. We’ve been here since and this is our 26th year in Branson and we have just loved every bit of it.”
Prior to COVID, Lennon said they were planning some big Christmas events to celebrate their 65th Anniversary as The Lennon Sisters. However, due to the pandemic, they felt it best to hold off on the in-person celebrations. While they’re not able to perform on stage for their fans this year, Lennon said they still wanted to put a few things together to honor this milestone.
Through an exclusive partnership with Polly O. Entertainment, Lennon said they are commemorating their 65th Anniversary with three new CD/Digital Album releases, which includes, “The Lennon Sisters: Ultimate Christmas Collection,” which features their classic seasonal recording from the 1960’s to the present day. Additionally, the sisters have released “Dream a Little Dream: The Classic Songbook Collection” and “Feeling Good! The Broadway Album.”
“The ‘Feeling Good!’ are all songs from Broadway. They’re duets with like Jack Jones and Gregory Hines and his brother and Janet and me and Mel Torme and Lesley Uggams and The Osmonds, through the ‘Feeling Good!’ Broadway album and ‘Dream A Little Dream’ album,” said Lennon. “I think they’ll bring back a lot of memories and it is wonderful songs that have completely been remastered and cleaned and done beautifully. Most of the songs are from our television show and it will bring back memories.”
The anniversary celebration continues with the release of an updated anniversary edition of their musical documentary, “The Lennon Sisters: Same Song, Separate Voices,” which is airing now and throughout the holiday season on PBS stations nationwide.
“It’s basically our story as a movie. We have many, many interviews of us individually on how we have felt and what we have gone through. Stories of the very beginnings through the years. The tragedies we’ve been through. The loss of our dad and how our faith brought us through to continue with life and continue to be on stage,” Lennon said. “In this PBS special we talk about all of the roads we have taken as individuals and as a Lennon Sister group. Some of the film clips are funny. Oh my gosh they are so good and they go back to many years ago up until now.”
Lennon added that the special also breaks down the important transition of sisters when Dianne and Peggy retired from performing and younger sister Mimi stepped up to join the group.
“Mimi sang with us she was like two or three-years-old and anytime Peggy had babies, because Peggy had lots of babies, Mimi would fill in,” Lennon said. “She was like our pinch hitter. Mimi now has been singing with Janet and singing with me for now, 20 years at least now. It’s amazing that this incredible person, who we love so much, and who is our little sister is so much fun, so great and keeps Janet and I on our toes. We’re just running and dancing still in our five-inch heels.”
As a part of the special, they also have interviews from some of their closest friends including Kathy Lee Gifford and the late Andy Williams.
“It’s also one of Andy Williams last times where he was interviewed and talks about us. So that’s an honor. It has a lot of the guest stars, such as The Osmond Brothers and Perry Como and all the different people that were on our show, it has clips of that,” said Lennon. “One of the things that is in the show also is some film clips that were not in the original PBS special and those are some fun surprises that people can look for.”
Though the singing sisters have entertained seven U.S. Presidents, released 21 albums, made more than 1000 television appearances, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and were even inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, Lennon said the thing she believes they are most proud of is the community of fans that have continued to support them over the years.
“We’ve got a huge fan club. We’ve got our Facebook page. They maybe didn’t have a happy family, so they’d adopted ours and lived by us and through us,” said Lennon. “When you meet them in person, they cry and they say, ‘We grew up with you. When your daddy died, we knew what that was like.’ The emotion of being so close to our fans, and I really have to say that’s the highlight of our career is the loyal fans and they’re the reason that we stay up on that stage and it is such a blessing.”