NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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 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.
“This music still makes me happy,” said Forrest Villarrubia, who served as a Marine in the Philippines in 1944 and was celebrating his 88th birthday at the museum on Nov. 20.
After the show, Villarrubia 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.”
“It feels silly sometimes, putting on the lashes and the makeup,” said Cristina Perez, who joined the Belles this year, and like the other performers, spends nearly two hours achieving a period look in hair and makeup before each show.