There’s something about the sentiments expressed in World War II-era songs that are timeless: love, loyalty, optimism. They’re songs born from a time when great worry blanketed the country, but underneath was a come-togetherness that helped people know that we would endure, that hope wasn’t a catchphrase or a punching bag, that love and working together would lift us—all of us.
If that sounds a bit too precious, you might be too much of a cynic. But there’s a group of gals who might just change your mind showing up in Houston this weekend. The Manhattan Dolls, an all-female vocal ensemble, brings its “Sentimental Journey” program to Houston’s 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport. In an age of Sirius and Spotify, when you can hear anything you want, any time you want, any place you want, there’s something cool about being able to hear this style of music in this place.
“Getting to sing music from the 1930s and ‘40s in a venue like this is special,” says Heather Strickland, the CEO of the Dolls and one of its singers. “You're surrounded by aircraft and artifacts in the museum from the actual era. Often, audience members dress in the 1940s style. It makes for a very special and memorable evening.”
On the playlist for the night are classics like “Boogie Woogie Bugal Boy,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Under My Skin,” “Begin the Beguine,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Chelsee Hicks, another member of the ensemble, whose concerts also include a “Rockin’ with the Dolls” salute to 1950s and ‘60s tunes, says that singing these pieces is not only a terrific exploration of harmony and precision, but just plain fun.
“My favorite part of sharing these songs is when they are recognized by our audience,” she says. “We've had seniors with severe dementia sing every word of every song; we get lots of tears and a lot of amazing stories from their youth. It’s always so incredible.”
Hicks says that performing with the Dolls feels a little like accomplishing time travel, being able to re-create the songs from bygone eras. The group, founded in New York City in 2009, was started by Strickland, who was a former USO singer. She traveled the world performing for U.S. troops and veterans and wanted a way to continue that legacy. The group performs concerts all over the world, at air shows, military events, and a multitude of public and private events. They’ve released several CDs, and the seven-member group features women with Broadway and off-Broadway credits, as well as a host of serious singing chops. Hicks expresses her pride in being part of the troupe.
“They really don't make music like this anymore, and keeping it alive today is the main mission of the Dolls,” she says. “These songs meant so much to families of loved ones who were off fighting in the war, and they created unity when the world was so divided.”
Amy Rogers, managing director of the 1940 Air Terminal Museum, says that proceeds from the concert’s ticket sales will go to repairing the museum.
Saturday, Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. Tickets from $30. 1940 Air Terminal Museum, 8325 Travelair St. 713-454-1940. More info and tickets at 1940airterminal.org.