How Middletown sisters grew from humble beginnings to become one of the country’s favorite acts

The famous McGuire sisters of Middletown. JOURNAL-NEWS ARCHIVES

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The famous McGuire sisters of Middletown. JOURNAL-NEWS ARCHIVES

Instead of being recognized as the McGuire Sisters — one of the most popular female groups in the 1950s and ’60s that produced 30 hit records — they could have been just Christine, Phyllis and Dorothy McGuire, three sisters from Middletown.

But their mother, Lillie McGuire, was a preacher at First Church of God in Miamisburg, so her daughters frequently performed as a group there. When word spread about the singing ability of the sisters, Karl and Inez Taylor, who ran a talent agency in Dayton, went to the small church to scout them.

The Taylors were so impressed they approached Lillie McGuire about signing her daughters to a performance contract.

“She wasn’t too excited about that,” Shane Taylor said about his father managing the sisters.

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But eventually, a contract was signed, the girls were purchased elaborate show costumes and they performed occasionally with the Karl Taylor Orchestra at the Hotel Van Cleve in downtown Dayton.

That was the modest beginnings of one of the greatest all-female singing groups ever to hit the stage.    After the passing last month of Christine McGuire, 92, many around the region recalled their memories of the family. That included Shane Taylor, whose family’s connection to the sisters underlines the few make-or-break moments that can create legends or long-term careers for performers like the sisters.

The eldest sister, Phyllis McGuire, 87, is the lone surviving sister. Dorothy “Dottie” McGuire died in 2012 at 84.

The McGuire Sisters produced six Top 10 Billboard hits, including No. 1 hits “Sincerely” and “Sugartime.” They performed for five presidents — Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — and Queen Elizabeth II. They were inducted into three halls of fame: the National Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1994, Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001 and Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009.

The sisters stopped performing in the late 1960s but made a comeback in 1985, including performing at casinos and clubs in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Their last televised performance was a 2004 PBS special, “Magic Moments: The Best of ’50s Pop.”

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Taylor said the McGuire Sisters were immensely popular because of their harmony, “stunning looks” and stage presence. Early in their careers, they appeared on the Phil Donahue Show on WHIO in Dayton, Taylor said.

Their big break came in 1952 when they won the “Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts” in New York performing as “Little Godfreys.” The show was designed for amateur talent, said Taylor, 80, who later ran Taylor Theatrical Agency.

He called that “the big springboard” for the McGuire Sisters.

Later on, they signed with a national recording agency and “away they went,” Taylor said.

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They eventually recorded 30 hit records. They had nightclub bookings from New York to Las Vegas. Then, in 1968, at the peak of their career, they performed for the last time on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Phyllis McGuire, who called herself “the one in the middle,” continued her singing career, headlining in Chicago, New York and Las Vegas, where she resides.

The sisters returned to their hometown in 1991 in honor of Middletown’s bicentennial. Because of ticket demand, they gave two performances in one night at the Sorg Opera House. They performed their Las Vegas show complete with costuming, orchestra and a pre-concert comedy act.

After each performance, the audience gave the sisters a lengthy standing ovation, according to an article in the Middletown Journal. Those attending included their mother, Bogie Buster founder Cy Laughter, family and friends, including classmates from Middletown and Miamisburg.

During a ceremony earlier in the day at the City Building, then-state Rep. Scott Nein called the sisters “one of America’s most talented trios” whose music was an “unmistakable sound” in the 1950s and ’60s.

Phyllis McGuire, the spokeswoman for the group, described the trip back home as “the most important day of our career and a very emotional experience.”

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