Phyllis McGuire, last survivor of McGuire Sisters singing act, dead at 89

Phyllis McGuire, the lead singer and last surviving member of the McGuire Sisters trio, died Tuesday at her home in Las Vegas. She was 89.

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The Palm Eastern Mortuary and Cemetery confirmed McGuire’s death on its website Thursday. A cause of death was not provided.

McGuire, with her older sisters Christine and Dorothy, became an overnight success in 1952 after winning the televised “Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts” show, The New York Times reported. That same year, Coral Records signed the sisters to a record deal, according to People.

Over the 15 years, the sisters became one of the nation’s most popular singing groups, with hits such as “Sincerely,” “Sugartime,” “Just for Old Times Sake,” “He,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.”

The trio sold millions of records, singing in nightclubs and on the television variety shows of Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Andy Williams and Red Skelton, the Times reported.

The McGuire Sisters’ cover of The Moonglows’ 1954 song “Sincerely” spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s U.S. songs chart in 1955. Three years later, they earned their second chart-topper with their rendition of Charlie Phillips and Odis Echols’ song “Sugartime.”

The sisters performed for five presidents -- Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush -- and also for Queen Elizabeth II, Billboard reported. They entered the National Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1994, according to the magazine. The trio was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.

“They were amazing,” longtime friend Lovee Arum told the Las Vegas Sun. “They brought the country together by singing wonderful songs.”

According to her obituary, Phyllis Jean McGuire was born on Feb. 14, 1931, in Middletown, Ohio. Her father, Asa McGuire, was a steelworker, and her mother, Lillie Fultz, was an ordained minister. The sisters started performing together in public in 1935 at their mother’s church, Billboard reported.

“We’ve been singing together since I was 4 years old,” Phyllis McGuire told Vanity Fair in a 1989 interview. “We sang in the car, using the windshield wiper for a metronome. My sisters are the most incredible harmony singers. I can start in any key, and they pick it up.”

In 1965, Phyllis McGuire’s image was tarnished by published reports romantically linking her to Sam Giancana, a Chicago mobster, the Times reported.

Giancana and McGuire appeared before a grand jury in Chicago. She testified that she had met Giancana in 1961 and traveled with him around the world, the Times reported. She said she was aware of Giancana’s reputation but denied she knew anything about his underworld activities.

“It makes me look terrible,” she told reporters afterward. “It would be different if I were on my own, but I’m not a single — I’m part of a trio. My sisters and my parents -- they’re brokenhearted about this.”

Their relationship was the subject of the 1995 HBO film, “Sugartime,” Billboard reported.

The McGuire Sisters gave a final appearance in 1968 on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” While her sisters raised families, Phyllis McGuire continued as a solo artist, People reported.

The sisters reunited for group performances in 1985 and spent nearly two more decades performing in Las Vegas, according to People. In 2004, the trio gave their last large performance during a 2004 PBS special, “Magic Moments: The Best of ‘50s Pop.”

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