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Big bands, singers & dancers
perform in Purdue Bands’
During the bleakest days of World War II, USO entertainers lifted soldiers’ spirits at home and abroad with lively musical shows similar to the “USO Canteen” show being presented by Purdue’s American Music Repertory Ensemble and the Lab Jazz Band at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, in Loeb Playhouse of the Purdue Stewart Center.
Admission is free.
Many Americans connect the USO with World War II, where it got its start, but the organization continues to provide entertainment and other services for military personnel. Doing this show during Purdue Bands’ 125th anniversary year has a special significance because members of the Purdue Variety Band, a predecessor of the jazz program, participated in USO entertainment tours in 1969, 1972 and 1974.
The World War II years, the focus of the Oct. 14 concert, were synonymous with the big band years and Director M.T. “Mo” Trout has selected popular tunes by Les Brown, Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters, among others, for this tribute to the USO. Singers will perform with the American Music Repertory Ensemble and members of the Night Train Swing Dance Club treat the crowd to dances of the day.
From Les Brown there’s the “Mexican Hat Dance,” and “Bizet Has His Day;” from Glenn Miller such tunes as “Sun Valley Jump” and “Boulder Buff.” Gene Krupa is represented by “Tuxedo Junction” and Duke Ellington by “Don’t Get Around Much Any More.”
No World War II era show would be complete without the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” or Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano.” Several older tunes who have had their popularity extended by Bette Midler are “Slow Boat to China” and “Stuff Like That There.”
The USO, or United Service Organizations, started in 1941 with the blessing of President Franklin Roosevelt who was excited that civilians wanted to get personally involved with the war effort by providing the emotional support the troops needed.
In over 3,000 communities, USO centers were established to become the G.I.’s “Home Away From Home.” Between 1940 and 1944, U.S. troops grew from 50,000 to 12 million and their need for a variety of services grew accordingly. USO facilities were quickly opened in such unlikely places as churches, log cabins, museums, castles, barns, beach and yacht clubs, railroad sleeping cars, old mansions and storefronts.
The USO made history when it came to entertaining the troops. From 1941 to 1947, USO Camp Shows presented an amazing 428,521 performances. There were sometimes 700 or more performances each day, all over the world. Over 7,000 entertainers, nicknamed “brave soldiers in greasepaint” traveled overseas, from the biggest movie stars to unknown vaudevillians. Some never returned, having fallen beside the fighting men or perished en route in plane crashes. By the end of World War II, the USO could claim that more than 1.5 million volunteers had worked on its behalf.
In 1947, the USO was disbanded but reorganized when the Korean War broke out in 1951. Since then it has continued to be a permanent part of the military scene. The USO currently operates more than 160 centers worldwide; 77 overseas and 83 stateside. Today, USO Celebrity Entertainment shows are effective morale boosters and remain the best-known of USO’s offerings. Even in peacetime, entertainers provide a much-needed break in the midst of duty tours overseas.
The Oct. 14 concert is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestras which offers a variety of free concert band, jazz and orchestra performances. For more information www.purdue.edu/bands
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