The Bell Sisters (Cynthia Strother, 16, and Kay Strother, 11) were discovered on October 31, 1951, singing "Bermuda" on a Los Angeles television program called "Peter Potter's Search for a Song." Their subsequent rise to "fame" was immediate; the song, which Cynthia wrote, was picked up that night by a music publisher who was one of the judges of the evening's amateur compositions.
Within a week, the young duo cut a demo of the song in Hollywood for Henri Rene, who was at that time the West Coast A & R man for RCA Records. At this session, Mr. Rene liked the girls' self-arranged vocal harmonies so much, he decided they should record the song for RCA themselves.
Because several other artists (including Dinah Shore and Ray Anthony) were considering recording the song, the girls were hurried back into the studio and on November 12 recorded "Bermuda" (with a new arrangement by Henri Rene). Because it was common then for many artists to release different versions of the same song just days apart, the Bells' recording of "Bermuda" was rushed through the RCA pressing plant in just a few days (instead of the usual several weeks). By March of 1952, "Bermuda" had reached #7 on the Billboard charts and eventually sold over 1,000,000 copies.
Cynthia and Kay, adopting their mother's maiden name of Bell for their act, enjoyed a rollercoaster ride of success, eventually releasing eleven records (22 songs) for RCA and hitting the charts again with "Wheel of Fortune" (up to #10) and "Hambone" (recorded with Phil Harris and charting as high as #19). They appeared on many popular radio and television programs, including the Johnny Carson Show, the Colgate Comedy Hour, the Frank Sinatra Show, the Perry Como Show and the Dinah Shore Show. They also returned often to Peter Potter's local show, as judges instead of contestants, in appreciation for being discovered there.
They appeared some 14 times with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and opened for Nat King Cole in Los Angeles. They took their act on the road (during school breaks) and performed in New York, Montreal, Dallas, Maryland, Las Vegas and Reno. They earned up to $4,500 per week, which was an unheard of sum to this large family - there were actually 7 Strother children - of a humble electrician. They worked with and shared stages with all the greats: Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney, Lucille Ball, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Mel Torme. They even toured Korea (in 1953 and 1954) with other Hollywood performers and the USO. Kay, being only 13 on their first tour, was the youngest performer ever to tour with the USO.
One of their biggest thrills was making movies for Columbia ("Cruisin' Down the River"), Paramount ("Those Redheads from Seattle") and Universal ("Les Brown Goes to Town," a B&W film short). One of the songs they released for RCA was "Take Back Your Gold," a slightly abbreviated version of the song they performed in "Those Redheads."
While working on "Those Redheads," Cynthia, who played Guy Mitchell's love interest in the film, remembers being very worried while preparing for a scene with Guy. "I was playing a nurse, and he was supposed to come in where I was rolling bandages and we had some dialogue and then we were supposed to kiss. Well, even though I was 17, I don't think I'd ever kissed a boy before, and what's more, there was talk his wife was going to be on the set. I mean, it was bad enough we never had any acting lessons - Kay and I were just winging it, basically. I was so flustered because I had to kiss Guy and I had no experience, and plus his wife was going to be watching. Well, it must have really showed in the footage, because after all the worry and embarrassment of getting through it, they didn't even use the scene in the movie."
After their peak in 1952-1953, the Bell Sisters continued to perform around the United States at state fairs and by doing charity telethons for several years. They were excellent acapella singers and were very popular at military hospitals and bases, where they frequently had to perform without a band. Eventually, though, they lost interest in performing and being "stars." Cynthia and Kay eventually settled down to raise their respective families - Cynthia went on to teach swimming to handicapped children and adults; Kay became an elementary school teacher. They are 69 and 64 today and look back on their career as Bell Sisters as one phase in their very active, full lives.
The song "Bermuda," their biggest hit, still earns royalties for Cynthia over 50 years later. It was most recently used in the soundtrack of the 1996 Gramercy film, "Grace of My Heart."