Glamorous Victory Belles revive World War II era

Decked out in 1940s throwback tailored dresses and perfectly coiffed curls, the Victory Belles seem delightfully out of place in the age of hip-hop.

They sing big-band classics at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and flirt playfully with the audience, leaving bright red lipstick kisses on the smiling faces of America’s aging war heroes. But these sexy, glam 20-somethings are not just singers in the tradition of wartime entertainers. They are a living museum exhibit about love songs in an era before texting and Skype, when saying goodbye meant you might not see a loved one for years — or maybe ever again.

With the World War II generation rapidly dying out, their performances have taken on new meaning.

Forrest Villarrubia, who served as a Marine in the Philippines in 1944 and was celebrating his 88th birthday at the museum on Nov. 20, posed for photos with the Victory Belles. As they serenaded him with a soft rendition of “Happy Birthday” and applied red lipstick kisses to his cheeks, his face broke into a wide smile.

For the museum, better known for its war machine exhibits than for big-band and boogie-woogie, the Victory Belles offer a different window into the culture of the era.

“There were just so many beautiful love songs written back in World War II,” said Victoria Reed, the museum’s entertainment director who founded the Victory Belles in 2009. “People really knew what it meant to miss each other. It was such a great time for music.”

The troupe just wrapped up a “Spirit of America” show and is now performing “A Swingin’ Christmas,” which runs through the end of the year and includes a mix of war-era classics and holiday tunes. During their last “Spirit of America” performance on Nov. 20, the crowd clapped and sang along with the troupe to such war-era classics as “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” and “As Time Goes By.”

Often they perform as a trio, a nod to the Andrews Sisters, who sang for the troops with Bob Hope and whose 1940s hits included “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” ‘’Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” and “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” The sisters — LaVerne, Maxene and Patty — are deceased.

Mandi Ridgdell, a Belle since 2010, said her grandfather had served in the Navy during the Korean conflict. He passed away in 2001, and it was her grandmother who encouraged her to audition for the Victory Belles by taping a newspaper clipping about the try-outs to Ridgdell’s bedroom door, along with a note that read: “Your papa would have loved this.”

The Victory Belles perform at the museum’s Stage Door Canteen, a theater named after the armed forces recreational center created in New York during World War II where stars such as Betty Davis and Rita Hayworth entertained.

The Victory Belles travel the world, and have performed at USO shows in Hawaii, Guam and Japan. Ridgdell said she believes strongly in the enduring therapeutic qualities of the era’s music. She performed this past summer for service members in Okinawa, where more than 120,000 Allied and Japanese troops died in ferocious combat as World War II neared its close in 1945.

For those with travel plans to New Orleans anytime soon, remember to stop by the museum and experience a performance that celebrates a generation we won’t have with us much longer. They deserve to be celebrated and remembered.

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Posted by on Dec 7 2013. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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