DPO presents Radio Holly Days
By Joe Aiello
Tom Brokaw coined it the Greatest Generation, those Americans who grew up during the Great Depression, fought in WWII and made a tide-turning material contribution to the war effort at home.
Born 11 months before Pearl Harbor, I can barely recall the war. But I can remember lying on the living room floor and listening to Lux Radio Theatre; Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons; Sergeant Preston of the Yukon; and The FBI in Peace and War on the radio. And musical shows like Dinah Shore’s Call to Music, with songs such as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Shoo Shoo Baby, I’m Making Believe, I’ll Be Seeing You, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.
Regardless of when we were born, we can all be home for Christmas in World War II.
On Friday, December 2 and Saturday, December 3 at 8 p.m. in the Schuster Center, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present Radio Holly Days with 5 by Design, the second concert in this season’s Kettering Health Network SuperPops Series. The concert recreates a radio studio setting of the 1940s big-band era, with “…great music, newsy inserts, commercials and comedic antics.”
5 by Design has appeared with over 200 symphony orchestras, and the effort they put into ensuring the historical integrity of the 1940s has made this show a must-see (and must-hear).
But it didn’t spring to life full-grown.
“As a vocal ensemble in love with the music of the big band era,” 5BD Artistic Director Kurt Niska recalled, “we were looking for a way to share this great music and our love of harmony with audiences. As we learned more about the bands and the groups, it was a natural fit to focus on an era that had such a tremendous impact on American history, culture, and popular song. Radio was where anyone could hear the bands, the singers, hit songs, commercials, dramas, news, and soap operas; it took you all over the world in so many ways while uniting our country at a pivotal time.”
Since all of 5BD’s parents had lived through or very closely to the 1940s era, they were able to impart a good amount of direct feedback. “They’ve done so much to help us,” Niska said, “from shopping for clothes, repairing rips and tears, to helping make or shop for stage props.”
A trombonist in high school and college, Niska has always had an affinity for big band and jazz. “Individually, we may enjoy different styles of music,” he said, “but one thing we have in common is an incredible love of swing music and harmony. From ballads and drum boogies to sambas and straight-ahead swing, we love it all.”
“My first introduction to this type of music was in college through the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer,” Niska’s wife and 5BD’s Tour Director, Lorie Carpenter-Niska, said. “They were highly influenced by the great vocal groups of the ‘40s, such as The Pied Pipers, The Modernaires, and The Merry Macs. A whole new world filled with vocal harmony and vocal groups opened up to us, and we loved it!”
To ensure they had the right take on the music, 5BD members listened to as many recordings as they could, so they could hear the difference between the originals and the development of those that followed.
“I grabbed recordings of Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Oscar Peterson…to name only a few,” 5BD Music Librarian Terry Niska said.
The list also includes vocalists Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mercer, Mel Tormé, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Nat “King” Cole, the Hi-Los, and the Four Vagabonds.
”I soaked it up like a sponge,” he noted, “and a whole new world of music was opened up to me.”
The list of airchecks of old radio shows 5BD members listened to included The Shadow, Superman, Inner Sanctum Mystery, The Green Hornet, Little Orphan Annie, As The World Turns, Ma Perkins, Hedda Hopper, Terry and The Pirates, Abbott & Costello and The Lone Ranger.
Almost all of the outfits you will see in the show are vintage.
“We did a lot of research on the clothing and hair styles from the early 1940s by watching movies from the period,” 5BD Executive Director Michael Swedberg said. Like Betty Grable flicks, such as Springtime in the Rockies, Pin Up Girl, Four Jill’s in a Jeep, and Down Argentine Way; Rita Hayworth films Cover Girl and Gilda; and Fred Astaire’s Broadway Melody of 1940 and Holiday Inn.
“We found the women’s fashion from this period to be very feminine and tailored – even wearing hats and gloves in everyday life,” Swedberg said. “The men typically wore double-breasted suits with wide collars and lapels, silk hand-painted ties, and wing-tip shoes. This was a very classy time period for fashion! There are about a dozen clothing changes in Radio Holly Days, and many of the clothes you see in the show are original to the early 1940s. We have found the quality of workmanship and material of the clothes to be very high, since we’ve been touring with some of them for 20 years and they’ve held up to the rigors of the road.”
A legacy of, and testimony to, the work ethic of the Greatest Generation.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@DaytonCityPaper.com.