Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About the Group
About The Group
The Radke Sisters were an act that did personal appearances with the WLS acts in the mid-1930s. From a 1934 article, we learn that there home at the time was in Goshen, Indiana. In another small blurb, we learned that their mother, Muriel, was the former Muriel Sanford of Clyde, Ohio.
They were not a musical act. They were an act of three sisters based on our research. They were an acrobatic act. Their specialy was Risley acrobatics. That is, per what we found as a definition on Wikipedia, "...where the base is lying down on their back, supporting one or more flyers with their hands, feet and/or other parts of the body; spinning a person or object using only one's feet."
For example, the Winnipeg Free Press reported in 1936 that the sisters were known as "Risley artists". They "...juggled human beings on their feat with ease and skill of Japanese, who were credited with originating this type of juggling act."
Their apperances with the WLS acts appear to be during the summer season when it was common to perform at the county and state fairs.
Doing further research, the Radke Sisters were first mentioned in 1923 appearing as part of vaudeville shows. In December 1923, they were at the State Theatre in Middletown, New York, billed as "sensational aerialists". They were at the Palace in Olean, New York in January of 1924 and were said to have done "an exceptional aerial feat".
In 1925, they were a part of Captain Jack Payne's High Dive show. They were said to be versatile and did a double trapeze act 85 feet in the air. These 1920 appearances seem to indicate that there may have been more than a few Radke sisters and maybe not in the same family as the ones we see in the 1930s look to be teen-agers which would make them children in the 1920s.
The Radke Sisters appeared at the Kossuth County (Iowa) Fourth of July celebration in 1933. The ad billed them as "juvenile gymnastic marvels...tricky, lightning fast tumbling and balancing." The local newspaper had this to say about them in their write-up of the various acts that were appearing. "Two youngsters - the Radke Sisters - junveile marvels of the show world, will appear in startling gymnastic tricks and lightning fast tumbling and balancing."
Word of their talents must have spread as the sisters made their first appearance in Miami, Florida in early February 1934 at the Miami Biltmore Pools. Providing the music at the floor show which the Radke Sisters were a part of was Xavier Cugat's Tango and Rhumba Orchestra.
We noted that the sisters seem to have some venues that invited their act back time and again. One such area was Benton Harbor, Michigan. The Paradise Ballroom (two miles east of Benton Harbor on US 12) said "No doubt this is by far the most beautiful act we have ever presented."
The sisters returned to Miami in December 1934 and were said to have brought the house down at Deauville and were doing a return engagement.
The group was part of the troup of performers with the Shrine Circus that was held under a tent in Honolulu in 1936. The article plugging the entertainers mentioned that "The Radke Sisters put on a song and dance act that ranks wiht the best on any stage in the country." The tent show was held at Kapiolani Boulevard and Ward Street.
Our research encountered a curve ball that made us do a double take. In late June of 1936, a newspaper article in Wausau, Wisconsin mentions entertainment at an event featured Lorraine Radke (13 years old) and Phyllis Radke (6 years old) of Caroline of Shawano county. "The Radke Sisters, dressed in black velvet overalls and white satin blouses, played guitars and sang two numbers. Phyllis presented a solo number and was given rounds of applause. This was their first appearance on a Wausau stage. They have appeared in radio performances." This made us think - were these the Radke Sisters that appeared with the WLS acts? But we found later they were not.
We first learned of the Radke Sisters in reviewing the publication of personal appearances of the WLS talent roster in the old WLS Stand-By weekly magazines that ran from 1935 to 1938. The first instance we see is at the Bijou Theatre (another venue the sisters performed at more than once) in Battle Creek, Michigan in August 1936. It was a one day event, but there were four performances - 2:15pm, 4:30pm, 7:15pm and 9:30pm. Price of admission: 25cents for matinee shows and 50cents for evening shows.
They appeared with the WLS groups in Wausau, Wisconsin in mid-August 1936. The newspaper wrote: "A recent addition to WLS program was the Radke Sisters, a tiny trio who were unusually clever acrobats in a unique act, closing with a roll up a stairway by one of the sisters while carrying another on her hands in a graceful balance."
In late December 1936, the Radke Sisters were in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In another article, we find a bit more of a description of perhaps what their act entailed. The writer noted in a review of their performance, "The Radke Sisters in a foot balancing and juggling act added largely to the excellence of the program."
They returned to the Bijou in Battle Creek, Michigan in late December 1938. They were being billed as "The Act Beautiful."
In another small glimpse into what reporters saw in their act, one writer wrote of their appearance in Madison, Wisconsin in September 1939, "...the three Radke sisters contor and twist themselves into pretzels in an outstanding balancing and tumbling act."
One of the more detailed write-ups about the act was found in the August 19, 1940 Van Wert Times (Ohio). The writer introduces readers to the act by stating, "A thrilling fifteen minutes will be served by the three lovely Radke Sisters when the Van Wert County Fair opens to the public with the usual big program of exhibits, attractions, rides, concessions and special events. Billed as the Act Beautiful, the attraction more than lives up to its name with its combined risky acrobatic and balancing turns."
The writer went on to tell readers that the trio worked together with a 'coordinated rhythm' that only comes from working together and knowing each other. The writer goes on "...If there is such a thing as mental telepathy, then the Radke girls have recieved more than their share of it, for some sort of psychic bond must exists between young girls to roll out."
The girls had their act honed to the point where the writer noted that not a single second was wasted during their time on stage. The writer notes one of their 'tricks', "...when one of the Radkes, supporting another girl on her hands does a complete inside roll oue(sp?).
Finally, the writer notes, "...in spite of their extreme youth, have learned all the old tricks of showmanship besides a few new ones of their own."
The Radke Sisters continued to make appearances into the early 1940s, but we do not know when they retired or stopped performing. During our research, we were not able to determine the names of the sisters. But their inclusion as part of the entertainment with the WLS artists shows that while the artists / performers may have played country/hillbilly music, the shows also included a variety of other acts.
Credits & Sources