The real-life inspiration behind the hit television series The Partridge Family, the Cowsills -- comprised of teen siblings Bill, Bob, Barry, John, Susan, and Paul in tandem with mother Barbara -- were one of the biggest pop acts of the late '60s, scoring a series of hits including "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and "Hair" with their angelic harmonies and sun-kissed melodies.
The group's origins lie with Bill and Bob, who as children began their singing careers covering Everly Brothers hits. Given guitars by their father, Navy man William "Bud" Cowsill, the siblings soon recruited younger brothers Barry and John to play bass and drums, respectively, and as Beatlemania dawned, the teen foursome began performing live at school dances and church socials throughout their native Newport, RI. Soon, the Cowsills landed a regular weekend gig at the local club Bannisters Wharf, and in 1967 recorded the single "All I Really Wanta Be Is Me" for the Joda label. The record generated little response, however, and after an appearance on NBC's The Today Show, the group signed to Mercury Records, where they issued three more singles to negligible interest.
Mercury producer Artie Kornfeld remained convinced of the Cowsills' commercial appeal, however, and set up another recording date independent of the label. This time, however, he convinced their siblings' mother, Barbara, to contribute vocals to the session, which yielded the stunning "The Rain, the Park and Other Things." With their wholesome family image serving as a marketing godsend, Kornfeld sealed a deal with MGM, which issued the single in the fall of 1967; it eventually rose to number two on the national charts, selling over a million copies in the process. The Cowsills' self-titled debut LP soon followed, and with the title track from 1968's We Can Fly, the family scored their second hit, in the meantime adding two more siblings -- sister Susan and brother Paul -- to the lineup. "Indian Lake" reached the Top Ten later that year, and in 1969 the group scored its biggest chart entry with the title song from the rock musical Hair. Around that same time, Columbia Pictures' television division dispatched a group of screenwriters to observe the Cowsills' daily lives for a possible series based on their story. The show never panned out, but was later fictionalized as The Partridge Family.
By the time The Partridge Family hit the airwaves in 1970, however, the Cowsills' career was on the decline, and in the wake of the 1971 LP On My Side, the group disbanded. That same year, Bill Cowsill (who was briefly considered to replace Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys' touring lineup) issued a solo LP, Nervous Breakthrough, but otherwise the siblings were musically inactive for much of the decade. In the late '70s, Bob, John, Susan, and Paul recorded a batch of original material with producer Chuck Plotkin, but the sessions were never unreleased. Barbara Cowsill died on January 31, 1985, and her children spent the '90s in regaining some of their former musical prominence. Barry mounted a solo career, Bill founded the country group the Blue Shadows, and Susan joined the Continental Drifters, an all-star New Orleans-via-Los Angeles combo also featuring her husband, ex-dBPeter Holsapple, and onetime Bangle Vicki Peterson. In 1994, the "core four" -- Bob, John, Susan, and Paul -- contributed a newly recorded Cowsills track, "Is It Any Wonder," to the Yellow Pills, Vol. 1 pop compilation. A new studio album, Global, followed in 1998.
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans on August 29, 2005, Susan and her family had already evacuated the area. However, brother Barry -- also a New Orleans resident at the time -- had not. Susan had received a phone call from Barry as late as September 1. The family searched for any sign of him for four months before his body was recovered and identified on December 28. Another death followed in 2006, when Bill passed away in February at the age of 58 after lingering health issues. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi