Bell Sisters Singer Dies at 88

Cynthia Strother, the singer and songwriter who teamed with her younger sister Kay as The Bell Sisters, a popular teenage act that found overnight success in the 1950s with their very first song, “Bermuda,” has died. She was 88.

Strother died Friday of heart failure at a hospice facility in Las Vegas, her nephew Rex Strother told The Hollywood Reporter.

The Bell Sisters, who recorded for RCA from 1951-55, performed often on radio shows hosted by the likes of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and on such television programs as The Johnny Carson ShowThe Colgate Comedy Hour and The Mickey Mouse Club.

The pair also appeared in the 1953 big-screen musicals Cruisin’ Down the River, starring Dick Haymes, and Those Redheads From Seattle, starring Rhonda Fleming.

The eldest of seven kids — their dad, Gene, was an electrician for an aviation company — Cynthia Sue Strother was born on Oct. 4, 1935, in Harlan County, Kentucky, and raised with her family in Seal Beach, California.

She wrote “Bermuda” in 1951 at the piano when she was 16 and still attending Huntington High School and Kay was 11.

“I like Spanish music best and was beating out Spanish tempo on the piano,” she told Newsweek in 1952. “I just got the idea and went through with it, until it was finished. Then we all got together to write the words. We got Indian ideas and a Spanish bullfighter idea. Then somebody said, ‘Bermuda,’ and we liked that.”

Adopting their mother Edith’s maiden name of Bell for their act, the girls performed in October 1951 on a local KNXT-TV show called “Peter Potter’s Search for a Song.” One of the judges of the evening’s amateur compositions was a music publisher, who immediately recognized the tune’s potential.

The girls were rushed into a Hollywood studio to demo the song for orchestra leader Henri Rene, the West Coast A&R man for RCA-Victor, and “Bermuda” was quickly released in March 1952, eventually rising to No. 7 on the Billboard singles chart. It would sell more than 1 million copies.

“I tried not to influence their natural style in any way,” Rene told Downbeat magazine. “I told them to sing just the way they sing for fun around the house. If they go over as big as we think they will, it will be due to the freshness and simplicity of their manner.”

Watch the sisters perform “Bermuda” on The Dinah Shore Show here.

The sisters also had hits with “Wheel of Fortune,” which made it to No. 10, and “Hambone,” which was recorded with actor-singer Phil Harris and charted as high as No. 19.

They would open for Nat King Cole in Los Angeles, perform all over the country and even tour Korea with other Hollywood performers and the USO — all when school wasn’t in session, of course.

In Paramount’s Those Redheads From Seattle, the girls sang “Take Back Your Gold,” and Cynthia portrayed the love interest of Guy Mitchell’s character.

“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,” she recalled in a post on The Bell Sisters’ website.

“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 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.”

The sisters were excellent acapella singers and welcomed at military hospitals and bases, where they frequently had to perform without a band.

“Bermuda” continued to generate royalties for Cynthia over the decades, with her song heard in Allison Anders’ Grace of My Heart (1996).

After she left show business, she taught swimming to handicapped children and adults.

In addition to Kay, survivors include her other sisters, Sharon, Judy, Paula and Alice; her sons, Seth, Kristoffer and Keven; and numerous grandchildren. Her husband, Seth, whom she married in 1957, died in 2006; her brother, Rex, died in 2019; and her daughter, Anastasia, died in 2022.

This story was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.

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