The Bonnie Sisters were inspired by the many other sister groups of the forties and fifties, but they were not actually related. Rather, they were all nurses who worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. The group’s members were Sylvia Totten, Eugenia Borgia, and Patricia Ryan.
All three women had been singers before going to nursing school. Inspired by a 1954 sister group recording (the De John Sisters’ “No More”), they spontaneously burst into a performance of the song in the hospital cafeteria, apparently receiving an enthusiastic response from passers-by. The three nurses followed up this performance by singing Christmas songs for patients bedridden over the holidays.
Alan Freed heard about the group and featured them on his radio program—the members, all in their early twenties at the time, were a good fit for his demographic. The Bonnie Sisters were among the first women to be cast in his New York stage shows, appearing in his December 1955 “Rock and Roll Holiday Jubilee” with Count Basie and His Orchestra. They also played major clubs in New York City, including the Copacabana, and signed a two-year contract with Rainbow Records in 1955 (the label’s president, Eddie Heller, also became their manager). Their singles were heavily doo-wop influenced; the most famous, “Cry Baby,” made it to the Billboard Top 100 list in 1956.
“Cry Baby” / “I Saw Mommy Cha Cha Cha With You Know Who?” Rainbow 45-328 (1955).
“Wandering Heart” / “Track That Cat.” Rainbow 45-333 (1956).
“Shuga-Duga” / “Confess.” Rainbow 45-344 (1956).
“Cry Baby” / “Broken.” Rainbow 45-328 (1956).
“Music as Written,” Billboard, 3 December 1955.
Program book, “Alan Freed’s Rock and Roll Holiday Jubilee,” December 1955.
Kaspar Monahan, “Singing Nurses Now at Copa,” Pittsburgh Press, 7 March 1956.