Germany’s Jacob Sisters / Geschwister Jacob have been performing together for over 50 years now – taking on all kinds of different manifestations along the way, ranging from straightforward pop act to campy, drag queen-like comediennes to saleswomen on QVC. They were frequent guests on TV variety shows, usually doing a little song or a sketch, and it’s easy to see why: the four blonde Fräuleins with over-the-top wigs and costumes were a constant eye catcher.
The sisters, Johanna, Rosemarie, Eva and Hannelore Jacob, were born in Schmannewitz in Saxony, the very eastern part of Germany. As children they performed in their father’s restaurant, calling themselves the Schmannewitzer Heidlerchen (Schmannewitze’s Wood Larks).
In 1959, the family moved to West Germany and settled in Neu Isenburg, close to Frankfurt. Taking the name Geschwister Jacob, they eventually earned a guest spot on the popular German TV programme Zum blauen Bock, and a recording contract with CBS followed.
Their first 45, the rather tame Träume der Liebe, was released in 1964. It stalled just outside the German top 40 but proved a top 20 hit in the Netherlands.
After another single, Ein Cowboy der braucht Liebe, and their first LP, they recorded what is arguably their most poptastic moment, a cover of The Supremes’ Stop! In the name of love, Was hab’ ich dir getan. The B-side was another Motown-esque stomper, Tut mir Leid, Jonny Boy. In an effort to attract a younger audience, they adopted the name Jacob Sisters for this single. The tactic worked, and it became their biggest chart hit, reaching number 32 in June 1965.
Sadly, they didn’t continue down the pop path. Instead they switched back to the Geschwister Jacob name and released the dull folk song Am blauen See, im grünen Tal.
Their next single, a novelty tune about a garden gnome, Gartenzwerg-Marsch, would follow them for the rest of their career. The song itself never charted, but they would re-release and re-record it at least five times over the next 40 years, effectively making it their signature tune and cementing their status as a comedy act.
Their follow-up 45s – Wenn die Musik erklingt (a cover of Enrico Macias’ Mon coeur d'attache);
their poppy entry for the 1966 Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele contest, So ist ein Boy (which ended in eighth position); Wir haben zu Haus kein Swimming Pool; and Happy Hongkong, a cover of the Reynettes’ Kowloon Hong Kong – were all less ridiculous, but failed to chart.
In 1967 they released a single with versions of two French originals: In jedem Manne steckt ein Kind (Il va falloir mettre au régime, by the Parisiennes) and Drei Farben der Liebe (Les trois couleurs de l’amour, by Alice Dona).
Even though chart success was eluding them completely by this point, the sisters were gaining momentum as the “German Fräulein Wunders” and were invited to perform in Las Vegas with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in the famous Desert Inn casino. They remained a fixture on the US cabaret circuit for the rest of the decade.
At home, CBS continued to release singles and LPs. Die alte Eisenbahn was followed by a cover of Massiel’s Eurovision winner for Spain, La la la (issued in competition with a version by Heidi Brühl).
The girls found themselves up against the likes of Siw Malmkvist, France Gall and Renate Kern at the 1968 Deutsche Schlager-Wettbewerb. However, their forgettable Mit dem Pfeil und Bogen didn’t make it into the final round – but the release of their entry is notable for two things: on the sleeve the sisters appeared in silver, Barbarella-like costumes and the B-side was a respectable cover of the international hit Can’t take my eyes off you, Das glücklichste Mädchen der Welt. This single is now a great rarity and fetches three-digit prices on the collectors’ market.
The sisters revived their old moniker Schmannewitzer Heidelerchen one last time for the release of a spoof version of Dorthe’s Wärst du doch in Düsseldorf geblieben (which had finished second at the Schlager-Wettbewerb and became a big hit), called Wärst du Dussel doch im Dorf geblieben.
Later in 1968, they made the surprisingly daring move of appearing in the movie Quartett im Bett with off-beat comedians Insterburg & Co. The film was parody of the Schlager industry and won the prestigious Ernst-Lubitsch-Preis that year. The song Gilbert was released as a single from the accompanying soundtrack LP.
Back in more familiar territory in 1969, they released an LP of folk tunes in a contemporary beat sound, called Aus der Jugenzeit a Go Go. A TV special, Sing sing sing, was accompanied by an LP – the first release issued under the name the Jacob Sisters that the siblings would use from then on. Their next 45, So schnell geht die Liebe vorbei, was a cover of Walkin’ away by the Karlins from Edinburgh, another group of sisters.
By now their image had grown increasingly camp, with over-the-top wigs and costumes – and they even added four white poodles to their onstage line-up.
They tried their luck again at the Deutsche Schlager-Wettbewerb in 1969 with a bizarre performance of the novelty song Auf dem Wege nach Aschaffenburg. They ended up tying with Mary Roos for tenth place, and the song became the last to be issued as a single by the group on CBS.
The 1960s were over and girl groups were considered old fashioned. The sisters made one single in 1970 for the prestigious German Vogue label, Halli hallo (a cover of Ljubka Dimitrovska’s Cibu-ciba), but Vogue fizzled out the same year.
In subsequent years, the sisters did cabaret and released singles sporadically, some of which don’t bear the name of a label and seem self-produced. Most of these were novelty tunes or German spoofs of international hits, such as their cover of Baccara’s Yes sir, I can boogie, sung with a heavy Saxon accent.
For legal reasons they performed as a trio for while. They also made a short-lived reality series for German TV and marketed their own brand of nail polish for dogs (yes, you read that right).
In 2008 the youngest of the siblings, Hannelore, passed away. The three remaining sisters continue to perform and appear regularly on TV.
With thanks to Jens Keller for contributing this profile.