Unless you were a big fan of the big bands so prevalent in the 40’s or saw every film that Bette Midler ever made, you probably missed the movie “For the Boys.” A recent news story about the opening of a USO in Virginia is what had be revisiting my film library recently to view this picture once again.
I had purchased a video of a Mark Rydell film a while back. This movie is about a true-to-life couple who entertained the troops, a warm a sentimental look at Eddie Sparks and Dixie Leonard two of the many USO singers and dancers who were hired to visit military installations to boost the morale of the soldiers and to offer them a temporary respite from the stresses associated with the war and from battle fatigue. Many movie stars volunteered to join the entertainers to cheer up the troops, and just amazed the soldiers with their electrifying stage presence.
The film was not made yesterday (its issue date was 1991), in fact, while Ms. Midler and James Caan were rehearsing a scene on location at a London airbase, and performing for servicemen and reservists, they were surprised by the sudden events of the Gulf War that called many of the soldiers immediately into action.
A good deal of their audience that day had to leave and Caan and Midler found themselves reliving a familiar occurrence, entertaining the remaining military service personnel with their film’s musical numbers before the men present on the set were actually called off to do their duty.
While oversees, the bands, the big bands, were doing what they could for the war effort to keep Americans entertained and happy. Out of this effort, beautiful torch singers emerged and the sounds of big band jazz. One of the all-girl big bands of the swing era was called the “International Sweethearts of Rhythm” with leader and vocalist Anna Mae Winburn. Songs that would inspire and lift spirits like “Tuxedo Junction” were the order of fare for these one-of-a-kind, tremendously talented female musicians, their songs, like their popular number “Jump Children” were impossible to listen to without wagging a foot or two, or moving to-and -fro in beat with their lively music.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were the first band to challenge biases of gender and race. They confronted these dual prejudices during a time when the African-American mainstream lived under the oppression of the Jim Crow laws (ridged black codes between 1876 and 1965).
The torch singers of the 40’s were a cross between vivacious and sultry and all were gorgeously attired for their musical gigs, they were considered “Big Band Beauties”. The less petite looking women were labeled “swing singers”, they were more robust in appearance, and less concerned with glamour but more focused on jazzy pizzazz and beautifully belting out their songs. These beauties where equally as enthralling but in a different way, they were referred to as bluesy sisters who swung, and man, did they ever swing.
Women’s groups (close harmony singing groups) like the Andrew Sisters (La Verne, Patty, Maxine and Sophia) were a combination, a mixture of both striking and spellbinding. In addition to their on stage performances, the Andrews Sisters made many radio broadcasts and movies with big bands such as the Glen Miller Orchestra in the 30’s and 40’s era.
They would tour, play in clubs and entertain in hotel venues aesthetically enhanced with highly fashionable clothing and makeup. Much like today, people needed to be captivated and distracted, the sound of their music and their glamorous appeal helped to take their audience’s mind off worrying. The torch and swing singers, the women’s close harmony groups and all female bands like the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, used their aesthetic appeal both audibly and visually to calm, sedate, and to stimulate, thereby, reviving the senses of all those who would show up or tune in to be aesthetically healed, one way or another.
References & Much More on this Subject
Film clip from “For the Boys”
Tragically Sad Scene from Movie “For the Boys” – Bette Midler sings “In My Life”
The Girls in the Band – All Woman bands of the 30’s and 40’s
International Sweethearts of Rhythm – Tuxedo Junction
Women and Jazz International Sweethearts of Rhythm
Andrew Sisters, Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company-B
Andrew Sisters – Hold Tight (rare recording)
Sexy All Girl Jazz Band
Ivy Benson and Her All Girl Orchestra
Vintage Make-up Guides (1940’s)
1940’s Vintage Fashion Poolside Fashion Show
Haircuts of the 1940’s
Wikipedia Big Band Era
Music of the 1940’s at the National World War II Museum Stage Door Canteen
Women’s Fashion 1940’s