Sisters in Song: Musical Sister Acts in Pittsburgh’s History

In the 1940s, three sisters, Barbara, Elaine, and Shirley, sang their way through programs on KDKA radio and toured the country selling war bonds. Known as the Kinder Sisters, these women were one of many sister musical acts that have captivated audiences throughout Pittsburgh’s history. These sister groups were not only hugely popular, they also highlighted the connective power music wields in families and communities.  

Publicity Shot of the Kinder Sisters, c. 1940s. The Kinder Sisters pose for a publicity picture. Top, Shirley Kinder, Elaine Kinder, middle, and Barbara Kinder MacCallum, bottom. Credit: The Almanac South Hills Community News, June 10, 2014.

The Kinder Sisters grew up in Dormont in a musical household. Their mother played the piano, and their father was a tenor. As teenagers they sang for their father’s Kiwanis club. Before long, the sisters were performing at popular nightclubs and on KDKA radio. At KDKA they participated in programs such as “Music Please,” “Singing Strings,” and the “Duquesne Beer Show.” In lending their voices to these programs, the sisters sang popular songs as well as romantic ballads such as Victor Young’s “Love Letters.” The “Kinder Three” were known especially for their deliciously tight harmony.  

The highlight of the Kinder Sister’s career occurred when the group was invited to travel with the Ice Capades. From 1943 to 1945, the Kinder Sisters toured cities performing in impressive, if chilly, arenas.  

Despite retiring from singing in the early 50s, music and entertainment remained an integral part of the sisters’ lives. Elaine married WTAE-TV news anchor Paul Long and Barbara performed into her nineties as part of her church choir. 

The Kinder Sisters are reminiscent of a sister duo from an earlier period, the Wallisch sisters. The Wallisch sisters, Emma and Catherine, were a hallmark of Pittsburgh’s young radio and vaudeville scene. They sang throughout the 1920s and 30s on the WCAE station and in local vaudeville shows.  

The Wallisch Sisters in matching dresses, c. 1927. This photograph shows Wallisch sisters posing together in their matching dresses, one of which is housed in the Heinz History Center Collections. Credit: Senator John Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, c. 1927, 1996.0301.

Emma and Catherine were raised on the South Side of Pittsburgh and were the elder of four siblings. It was in this family home that they taught themselves the musical skills which served them on the radio and in concert. Emma would play the piano, singing the melody, while Catherine vocalized the harmony. They performed current favorites and some of their own compositions.  

Vintage Sheet Music featuring the Kinder Sisters, 1940. This Sierra Sue sheet music cover shows a black and white shot of the Kinder Sisters and art by Im-Ho. It contains music by Joseph B. Carey and lines for piano, vocals, and guitar. Credit: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., c. 1940.

Another sisterly trio, the Castle Sisters, sang throughout Pittsburgh before moving to national television in the early 60s. Josie, Joannie, and Audrey Kossol grew up in North Charleroi as the youngest of no less than fourteen children. Their last name, Kossol, reflecting their Lithuanian heritage, was changed accidentally to Castle in the course of their time in the entertainment business. 

Castle Sisters CD “Goodbye Dad and all the Rest,” 2011. Songs from the Castle Sisters were collected from analog tapes and vinyl to create this CD with selections such as “Mr. Winter” and “Wishing Star.” This cover shows the Castle Sisters posed together in plaid. Credit: Clarinet Cat, 2011.

Like the Kinder family, the Kossols were known for being highly musical. Every member of the family could play an instrument and sing. The Castle Sisters first began performing in local gigs around Charleroi before being invited to sing at Twin Coaches, a leading nightclub near Belle Vernon. This debut led them to other prominent locations such as the Ankara and Holiday House.  

The sisters achieved further notoriety when they appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts network show. In the 50s, they relocated to New York City to pursue a professional music career, after which they landed a spot on “Glenn Miller Time” as the featured vocal group. Besides Glenn Miller tunes, the Castle women recorded their own compositions such as “Forgive and Forget Me.” 

Pittsburgh was also home to two singing nuns, sisters by vow and birth. Sister Rosemonde Deck and Sister Rosalie Deck, called “the Singing Sisters,” grew up in Beechview and were taught singing by their mother, a voice teacher. As children, they performed on local radio stations such KDKA’s “Starlets on Parade” program.  

Singing Sisters CD Cover, 2006. Previously published by Casa Maria Records in 1992, this CD cover of “Singing Sisters” songs shows the sisters outside in their habits. The green shamrock above the album title reflects the Singing Sisters reputation for singing Irish folk songs in honor of Irish relatives on their mother’s side. This record contains songs such as “Danny Boy” and “Grandma O’Hagan.” Credit: Senator John Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, c. 2006, Compact Disc 0043.

In the late 1940s, the Deck sisters became sisters in another sense, entering the religious community at Divine Providence. They graduated from Duquesne University where they achieved their undergraduate and master’s degrees from the school of music.  

After receiving permission from their Mother Superior, they embarked on a delightful career of performance. During this time, the Singing Sisters juggled concert appearances and teaching at Sacred Heart high school in Kingston, Massachusetts, their home beginning in the late 50s. They performed at a wide variety of concerts and venues from Boston to the opera house in Manila; they once sang at a private mass for Pope John Paul II in Rome. 

Pittsburgh’s rich legacy of women and sister led musical acts has continued. Alaine Fink and Corinne Fink-Adams are a piano and organ duo who have been performing in the city since 2017. They play in churches and retirement homes, assisting in community services, as well as regional orchestras.  

The Fink Sisters both attended Lebanon Valley College and were accepted into the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts. A highlight of their career is having an organ piano duet commissioned for them by Scott Pappal, a music educator from Western Pennsylvania.  

Fink Sisters Concert Program, 2019. The Fink Sisters are pictured on the cover of a concert they played at Longwood at Oakmont Retirement Community. The organ/piano duo played classical and religious music such as “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” and Hungarian Dance by Johannes Brahms. Credit: Courtesy of Alaine Fink.

The charming prospect of sisters bonding through song and entertainment is clearly as enticing today as it was when the Kinder Sisters harmonized on sparkling nightclub stages. No doubt these women have inspired countless other young sisters to take up their microphones and sing loud in all corners of Pittsburgh.  

Heinz History Center curator Emily Ruby has done extensive research on the Wallisch sisters. For further reading, check out her “Curator’s Corner” from the Spring 2020 edition of Western Pennsylvania History titled “The Singing Sisters.” Researchers are also welcomed to listen to the Singing Sisters CDs housed in the Detre Library and Archives with staff assistance. To learn more about or book the Fink Sisters, view their website: 

The Wallisch Sisters Dress, c. 1927. This silk and lace dress was donated to the Heinz History Center by Catherine Wallisch Bauer. It is one of a pair which the sisters would wear for performances. The photo was taken by Liz Simpson. Credit: Senator John Heinz History Center, 96.207. Gift of Catherine Wallisch Bauer.

Do you know of a Pittsburgh Sister Act that should be documented in the Heinz History Center’s Collection? If so, we would love to hear about them.

By: Alicia Method, Heinz History Center Curatorial Intern 

Date August 4, 2022
  • Alicia Method