Phyllis McGuire shot to fame with her older sisters Christine and Dorothy in the 1950s after competing on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts contest

By Brianne Tracy
December 31, 2020 08:15 PM
Phyllis McGuire
| Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Phyllis McGuire, the lead singer and last remaining member of 1950s trio the McGuire Sisters, died on Tuesday at her Las Vegas home. She was 89.

Phyllis' death was confirmed by the Palm Eastern Mortuary in Las Vegas. They did not specify a cause of death.

The singer shot to fame with her older sisters Christine and Dorothy (who died in 2018 and 2012, respectively) after winning winning the televised variety show, Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, in 1952. That same year, Coral Records signed the sisters to a record deal.

The McGuire Sisters' cover of The Moonglows' 1954 song "Sincerely" spent six weeks on top of Billboard's U.S. songs chart in 1955. In 1958, they earned their second no. 1 hit with their rendition of Charlie Phillips and Odis Echols' song "Sugartime."

"Sincerely" and "Sugartime" both sold more than one million copies, as did their 1956 song "Picnic."

The McGuire Sisters
| Credit: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

The sisters' success continued throughout the '50s but came to a halt in the '60s, as reports surfaced that Phyllis was romantically involved with Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, according to The New York Times. Phyllis, meanwhile, denied that it was anything more than platonic.

Before a grand jury in 1965, Phyllis testified that she knew Giancana to be a criminal, though she didn't know the specifics of his activities.

The McGuire Sisters stepped away from the spotlight in 1968, giving a final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. While Christine and Dorothy raised families, Phyllis continued on as a soloist after releasing singles of her own starting in 1964.

As a soloist, Phyllis performed regularly in Las Vegas, where she settled in a mansion which boasted an Arc de Triomphe, a 45-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower and a moat with swans in it.

Phyllis and her sisters reunited for group performances once again in 1985 and spent nearly two more decades performing in Las Vegas. In 1994, the group was inducted into the National Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

In 2004, the McGuire Sisters — who were born to Asa and Lillie McGuire in Middletown, Ohio — gave their last large-scale performance during PBS' 2004 special, "Magic Moments: The Best of '50s Pop."

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Phyllis' 1952 marriage to broadcast Neal Van Ell ended in divorce in 1956. They had no children.

Phyllis is survived by nieces and nephews. Her longtime companion, Mike Davis, died in 2016.

"I don’t fear living, and I don’t fear dying," she told Vanity Fair in 1989. "You only live once, and I’m going to live it to the fullest, until away I go. And I’m going to continue singing as long as somebody wants me."