“Then you go out there and you see how these people connect, and the memories you bring back, and it’s just so moving,” Perez added.
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. Patty was the last to die, in January 2013 at age 94. The Andrews Sisters sold more than 75 million records, including many songs that kept spirits high on the home front and in the war zones.
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 rest is history,” said Ridgdell, a Gonzales, La., native who studied theater at Northwestern State University. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is not my job anymore. It’s who I am.”
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.