Story Bites

The Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service

Between the years of 1911 and 1918, in the small town of Mound, Minnesota, the Andrews Sisters were born to become one of the most popular blues and swing band groups in America. Patty, LaVerne, and Maxene started their musical journey when they were relatively young, winning their first prize for a talent contest at a local theater in Minneapolis. When their father’s restaurant failed and collapsed, the Andrews Sisters started performing on the road to support their family. Inspired by the likes of Boswell Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Torme, they began to imitate their style and worked hard on their craft until they laded their first major success with “Bei Mir Bist Schön,” an originally Yiddish song that sold 350,000 copies. That song became the first spot on the Billboards and earned the sisters their celebrity status.

During the height of their popularity, the Second World War broke out. During the war, they continued producing songs and records that often had military-style themes. The Andrew Sisters performed
their hits in military-themed comedy films such as Private Buckaroo and Bick Privates. Like other artists of their time, they entertained the troops, both inside the United States by visiting US military bases and outside the homeland, in Africa and Italy, often in war zones, hospitals, and munition factories. Their most critical work for the war is performing Irving Berlin’s “Any Bonds Today?” which helped encourage citizens to purchase war bonds to support the war effort. They often treated random service members to dinner while they were on tour and volunteered to help establish the Hollywood Canteen (a retreat for service members) while also performing and dancing with the servicemen in the retreat. They cooperated with V-Discs (a record label owned and operated by the armed services) in producing records for service members and appeared on military radio service shows. Their contributions to the war effort led to them being known as “The Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service.”

The group continued their musical career after the war but not in the same fashion. Patty separated from the group to pursue a solo career in music. She continued to make appearances in guest shows and found herself in a musical theater piece called the Victory Canteen in Los Angeles. She performed with her sister
Maxene, in another musical called “Over Here,” which showed life during WWII at the homefront. Maxene accepted a teaching position at Tahoe Paradise College and rose to become Vice-President. LaVerne died of cancer in 1967, which made both Maxene and Patty unable to perform as a group without her presence.

Despite their humble backgrounds, they grew to be iconic figures in swing and blues during WWII with their parents’ help. They brought a sense of joy through their entertainment during a dark time in American and world history. Overall, they sold more than 900 million records, recorded seven hundred songs, and earned nine golden records.

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Story Bites

The Patriotic Artist

During the German Empire’s reign, a future actress was born days after Christmas in 1901, in Berlin. Marlene Dietrich’s mother was from a wealthy family, and her father was a police officer. She studied violin in her youth and was attracted to the theater and poetry as a young woman. Her early beginnings involved playing violin for silent films, singing in the choir, and playing small and vital parts in many German movies. Her role in musicals attracted attention to her talents. After massive success in a film called the Blue Angel, in which Marlene played a singer, she moved to the United States.

Through her connection with director Josef von Sternberg, she starred in six films under his direction. She cultivated her image as a glamorous actress, using her musical talent often to star in movies that were somewhat provocative for her era. After starring in other films that proved to be a commercial success, she becomes one of the best-paid actresses of her time. However, she later declined in her popularity and was placed at the 126th rank in the box office.

At this time, the Nazi Party approached her while she was in London and offered her lucrative deals in return that she agrees to return to Germany as a film star, boosting the Third Reich image. Marlene declined and applied for US citizenship. She used her resources to create a fund that helped Jews and other dissidents to escape Nazi Germany. Marlene used her entire salary from one of her movies, “Knight Without Armor,” to put it in the fund. After renouncing her citizenship, she helped sell war bonds, succeeding at it than any other celebrity. Marlene performed to allied troops through the war in Algeria, Italy, UK, France, Netherlands, and Germany. She played a critical role in assisting the Office of Strategic Services (known today as the Central Intelligence Agency) to record and broadcast her music in German to be used as propaganda against enemy soldiers. For her actions during the war, she received the Medal of Freedom for entertaining the troops and was also awarded Légion d’Honneur by the French government for her contributions. The tours that she went on often resulted in her being put in difficult and dangerous environments. There were reported instances where Marlene was working on the front lines of the war. She adapted to those environments and was found sleeping in tents and giving performances without power.

Marlene is one of the icons of Hollywood cinema. However, she is also an example of a musically talented celebrity who put their fame and skill into good. Not only did she entertain Allied troops, but she saved many lives by financing their escape from the fascist regime. And while she continued to have financial success in her musicals and films, she suffered from her contribution to the war effort. Her visit to West Germany in 1960 was met with negative press, hostility by nationalistic Germans who felt she was a traitor, two bomb threats, and protests chanting “Marlene Go Home!”. Her visit and tour in Germany were not successful financially, and she felt drained by the attitude she met there. When her career ended in show business, she continued to be politically active and in contact with many world leaders, attempting to exert whatever influence she had to advance positive change.


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Story Bites

Diversity’s success, in times of prejudice

During the height of the racial tensions in the United States, a group of women from multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds formed a group known as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. It was the first racially integrated all-female band in its time. It all started in Mississippi, with a principal named Laurence C. Jones in the impoverished African American neighborhood’s Piney Woods Country Life School.

Inspired by the Melodears, he set out to create an all-female jazz band at Piney Woods to fundraise the school. The Swinging Rays of Rhythm was born to get money for the school. Later the band would become independent and later get the name the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. They get their independence by stealing the school bus when they find out that many will not graduate from school because they have devoted their time to the band. So they severed their ties with the school. They are in high demand, so they decide to take the patronage of a wealthy donor in Virginia and leadership from Anna Mae Windburn (who lost many male musicians to the draft from her former band, The Cotton Club Boys, during WWII).

The group performed predominantly to black audiences in Harlem, Washington DC, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis (Missouri), Omaha, and Los Angeles. Due to the Jim Crow laws, the girls were forced to live on the bus that they were using to tour the country to avoid trouble. The bus was used for music practice as well as studying for regular school classes. The band’s white members often had to wear dark makeup to look black or say that they were mixed in order to avoid trouble. One of the white members, Roz Cron, was unsuccessful in convincing a police officer that she was mixed and as a result, spent a night in jail. The musicians also didn’t make a lot of money themselves, being compensated $1 a day for food and $1 a week for allowance. On top of all this, the group had to face casual sexism from other more experienced male musicians who thought less of them due to their gender.

Yet despite these harsh circumstances, the group rose in prominence. Their performance in the Howard Theater in DC set their box office record to 35,000 patrons in one week. It was honored with the title, “America’s No. 1 All-Girl Orchestra” by DownBeat magazine. They had a significant fandom among African Americans as they performed in majority-African American venues. Their most crucial contribution was their role in WWII. Their popularity in the African American populace slipped into the military, with African American soldiers writing the ban fan letters and asking them to come to Europe to perform. The band answered the call and started touring in Germany, France, and Belgium.

It was after the war ended that the band began a slow process of disbanding. Reasons involved marriage, aging, career changes, and starting families.

The band holds a special place in American history. Despite the racial discrimination and segregation, combined with oppressive gender norms, during one of the bloodiest wars in human history, the band made of a mixed and integrated group of young women were able to have considerable success in their short journey. They were so popular that their talents were used for a good cause: contributing to the war effort. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm stand as a symbol of diversity and overcoming hardships when their very existence was illegal in many of the places where they have performed.


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Story Bites

The Force’s Sweetheart

At the age of seven, a young girl started performing publicly on stage. Daughter of a plumber and a dressmaker, Vera Lynn came from humble origins. At the age of two, she was diagnosed with diphtheritic croup and nearly died. Her first hits were “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” and “Red Sails in the Sunset,” two years later, her career will be shaped and defined by her participation in the Second World War.

At the beginning of the war, she would sing to the people using the London tube station to hide from the air raids. During this time, she had a popular hit, “We’ll Meet Again,” that made her quite famous in that era. The song resonated with the British populace for their lyrics, which included the following verse, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” This popularity led to Vera being chosen as the top favorite when British service members were asked to list their favorite artists. She was named “The Forces’ Sweetheart.” Her popularity continued as she kept performing songs requested by British troops and visiting hospitals to meet new mothers and send their letters to their husbands overseas. Her other contribution to the British war effort included entertaining the troops in Egypt, India, and Burma and appearing in three movies with wartime themes.

After the war, her song “Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart” became a top chart hit in the US. Her other two singles, “The Homing Waltz” and “Forget-Me-Not,” became popular in the UK. The three songs landed spots on the UK Singles Chart. She was the first British singer to hit a top chart in the US. She continued to have lots of success in her career, but her dedication to the troops who fought in WWII never went away.

In 1995, she sang outside the Royal Buckingham Palace in a ceremony that marked VE Day’s anniversary (The day in which the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany). Ten years later, on the same anniversary, she made an appearance with a speech praising the veterans of the war, reminding the younger audience of the sacrifices that they made for their country. She followed with a performance of her song, “We’ll Meet Again.” In that same year, during the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance, she made a speech in which she said about the World War II veterans “These boys gave their lives, and some came home badly injured, and for some families, life would never be the same. We should always remember, we should never forget, and we should teach the children to remember”. For her contribution to the war, she received the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Burma Star for her work in Burma.


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Story Bites

The Multiplex of Art

Born to a musical family, Noel Coward was attracted to the performance arts since the early age of seven, attending the Chapel Royal Choir School as a youngster. Noel had little formal education and could not read musical notes; however, he was curious and eager to learn and didn’t let it stop him. His father worked as a salesman, selling musical instruments. Financial struggles were very known to Noel in his childhood. His ambitious mother enrolled him in a dance academy in London. Noel became acquainted with many in the theater industry who had a significant effect on the young playwright, such as Charles Hawtrey, Philip Streatfelid, and Astley Cooper. Unfortunately, one of them, Philip Streatfelid, was struck by illness from tuberculosis and died.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, he made a trip to America to pursue his career, with little early luck. Later, however, he would forge great success and popularity. Plays like Young Idea, The Vortex, Fallen Angels, and Hay Fever laid the foundation of his career as they received wild popularity in England and America. Because of these achievements, he kept producing and working on plays until he collapsed on stage while starring in The Constant Nymph. His biggest theatrical failure was Sirocco, which generated a violent reaction from theatergoers.

When WWII broke out, Noel left the theater and wanted to contribute to the war effort directly. He was tasked with running British propaganda to influence the American public and political opinion to aid Britain. He excelled in his job and later moved on to doing musical work by entertaining British troops in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. After London was struck and bombed by the German forces, he wrote and recorded patriotically-themed songs such as “London Pride” and “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.” During the war, his dramatic project was a naval film called in Which We Serve, in which he was both the writer, director, and composer in the film production.

Although he was not formally educated in music composition and reading musical notes, Noel wrote eight musicals and three hundred songs throughout his career. His theatrical career and musical talent often overlapped. Talented in many forms of art, Lord Mountbatten, a British Naval Officer, once said on Noel’s seventieth birthday, “There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are fourteen different people. Only one man combined all fourteen different labels – The Master.”

Noel Coward was never formally educated in the arts. He was merely motivated, talented, and passionate. This combination led him to a great success that had a massive cultural impact.


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World and Melody


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Saturday, June 11, 2016

7:30PM – 9:30 PM EST

St. Elizabeth Catholic Church

917 Montrose Rd

Rockville, MD 20852

Russian soprano Yulia Petrachuk, Peruvian Baritone Jose Sacin and Belarusian pianist Tatiana Loisha will grace the gorgeous stage of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church with an Interesting Art Songs program.

You will hear spellbinding song cycles by Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy, selected songs by an American contemporary composer Emmanuel Dubois and beautiful songs by Sergey Rachmaninoff and Giuseppe Verdi, as well you will enjoy a colorful song cycle by Joaquin Turina and song selections by one of the foremost Argentine composers of 20th century Carlos Guastavino.

The concert will be completed with a touching duet of Nedda and Silvio from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci.


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Yulia Petrachuk, soprano

“Yulia is a special and unique artist, able to hold her own on any stage in the world”  

(Daniel Rigazzi, Stage Director at Metropolitan Opera in NYC).

Her debut as a professional opera singer was with the State Theater Bern, Switzerland in 2010. She has also performed with Theater Biel (Switzerland), Ash Lawn Opera Festival (USA), Opera Ischia (Italy), Dicapo Opera Theater NYC, and Vocal Productions NYC. In 2014, she made her debut at the Carnegie Hall with Steven Crawford. Some of her main roles performed include Fiordiligi, Mimi, Violetta, Nedda, Iolanta, Tatiana, Euridice, Flaminio, Lauretta, and Adina.

In 2012, Ms. Petrachuk received a grant by the The Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridge and in 2015 she was one of the Finalists in the Vocal Arts DC Discovery Series Competition in Washington DC.  In 2015, she won the Montpelier Art Center’s Classical Recital Series Competition. Late in 2015, she sang with Opera Camerata in Washington DC, in the principal role of Fiordiligi, in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. In November 2015, Ms. Petrachuk successfully performed the World Premiere of “Yulia” (a song cycle for soprano and strings dedicated to her by composer E. Dubois) at the Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Music Center in New York City, in collaboration with the renowned Italian pianist Carlo Pari.

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Jose Sacin, baritone

Peruvian baritone Jose Sacín has a sturdy, commanding voice with the versatility and musicality that make him perfectly suited for the roles of Verdi and Verismo.

Recent performances include the roles of Scarpia in Tosca and Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte with Opera Camerata of Washington, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro at the Teatro Municipal in Lima, Peru; Sharpless in Madama Butterfly with Opera Camerata of Washington, Ein Bote in Guntram with Washington Concert Opera, Germont in La Traviata with the In series, Figaro in The Barber of Seville also with OCW.  In 2013, Mr. Sacín returned to Opera Camerata of Washington to perform Tonio in I Pagliacci and Die Sprecher in Die Zauberflöte. He will sing Germont in La Traviata at Opera in Williamsburg, cover the title role in Verdi’s Macbeth at Opera Delaware, perform Roque in Marina at Teatro Lirico DC, and Payador in Maria de Buenos Aires with Connecticut Lyric Opera. In 2012, he was seen at Opera Delaware and at New York Lyric Opera. He also has worked with Washington National Opera, Opera de Lima, Opera Delaware, IVAI Festival (Tel Aviv), Baltimore Opera, Opera Camerata of Washington, Caramoor Opera Festival, Opera North, and Maryland Opera Society.

He performed at a nationally televised event for Pope Benedict XVI alongside Placido Domingo at Nationals Stadium in Washington, DC, and sang the world premiere of selected passages from the newly discovered version of La Forza del Destino with Philip Gossett at Caramoor International Music Festival.

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Tatiana Loisha, pianist

B.A. in piano performance, Belarusian State Academy of Music. Graduate program in collaborative piano, Belarusian State Academy of Music. Winner of the Shostakovich competition (St. Petersburg, Russia, 2001), International Competition for Young Pianists (Brest, France, 2002). Winner of several contests for singers and pianists duets in Vilnius, Lithuania, 2006; St. Petersburg, Russia, 2006; Kazan, Russia, 2007.

Tatiana collaborated with vocalists as: Yuri Gorodetski, Oksana Volkova, and Ilya Silchukov. The collaboration embraced preparing for such well-known international competitions as Queen Elisabeth Competition, Operalia, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Montreal International Musical Competition and performing at them, followed up by recitals and CD recording.

In 2013, Tatiana worked as conductor assistant with Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic – European Art Centre (Bialystok, Poland) with conductor Michał Klauza.

Some of Tatiana’s discography includes: Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff: Romances (Kovcheg, Minsk, Belarus); Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky: Russian Songs (ATMA Classique, Canada); Queen Elisabeth Competition: Singing 2008.