BROOKSVILLE — Barely into their singing career in the early 1950s, the White Sisters found themselves nearing the top. Janet, Joyce and Fay White traveled in style and stayed in the finest hotels, performing in major cities in the United States and Europe.
Crowds adored their wholesome smiles, matching long dresses and sweet harmonies. One reviewer compared the White Sisters to "vestal virgins." Another said they had created "the most perfect harmony of any girls trio in the country."
The sisters found the adulation flattering, even thrilling — but not satisfying. All had experienced religious conversions as teenagers and felt pangs of regret singing secular music.
Now only two of the White sisters remain. Janet White Tucker, the shiest of the three, and perhaps the most gifted, died Oct. 4. She was 77.
She was born in Salisbury, Md., 45 minutes after her sister, Joyce. The twins and their older sister, Fay, grew up singing together.
"Mama taught us our harmony," said Fay Fusonie, 79. " 'Fay, go a little bit lower. Joyce, go a little bit higher.' "
Janet always took the melody. "She was so special," Fusonie said.
Their father, a firefighter and former vaudeville drummer, took the girls to their first performance at a club for firefighters. They stood on a table, crying, backs to the audience, and sang a few lines of Oh, A-Hunting We Will Go.
After high school, the girls moved to Baltimore. They sang in nightclubs, theaters and hotels. In 1951, they toured 44 cities and USO bases in Europe with Amateur Hour impresario Ted Mack.
A break came in 1952, when the sisters, singing Good Day, tied for first place on Arthur Godfrey's talent show. Swankier gigs followed, and they signed with Music Corporation of America. They got top billing for three years.
But increasingly, the sisters found their smoky venues at odds with their hearts. Crowds were interested in drinking. Married men hit on them.
Though they were being compared to other famous trios like the Andrews and the McGuire sisters, the allure was waning. "We met the McGuire Sisters," Fusonie said, "and they were as miserable as we were."
In the mid 1950s, a growing internal conflict reached its peak. Joyce White proposed turning their talents toward spiritual music.
They enrolled in Philadelphia Bible College, then sang in several cities with evangelist Billy Graham. They recorded nine albums and scores of 45s.
All three sisters married and eventually settled in Florida. Janet's 28-year marriage to businessman Bernie Tucker ended in divorce. The women still performed, mostly at churches, as recently as three years ago.
Janet Tucker moved to Loving Care, an assisted living facility in Spring Hill, two years ago. As her health declined in recent weeks, Fusonie and Joyce Sampl visited. They slipped a White Sisters CD into a player as she slept, and were delighted to see their sister's eyes open wide.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.