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The Villages
Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Villages Swing Band takes audience back to the great days of radio

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when radio ruled the land and Lifebuoy soap, Halo shampoo and big bands were everywhere.
Where have you gone, Lone Ranger?
He’s lost with Tonto back in 1949.
“Before you know it, 1949 will be gone we will welcome in 1950,” George DelMonte said in a radio studio set Tuesday on the Savannah Center stage. It was all part of The Villages Swing Band “Holiday Swingin’ Radio Hour” concert.

Watch video of the show here:

Irv Butler, Jean Butler and George DelMonte celebrate the golden age of radio.
Irv Butler, Jean Butler and George DelMonte celebrate the golden age of radio.

Jean Butler was the leader of the nearly 20 musicians on stage and they took the crowd for a whirlwind journey on a musical time machine.
They had help from announcer Kent Shroeder, radio station stage manager Irv Butler along with “techs” Pat Kronk and Chris Wile.
This was Christmas the way it used to be: filled with warm music, swinging sounds, vocal harmony and lots holiday cheer. The minute the “on the air” electric sign near the front of the stage lit up, the fun began.
The show kicked off with a “Les Brown and his Band of Renown” brassy number, followed by a commercial for Lifebuoy soap.
You remember Lifebuoy – it used to be on everyone’s bathroom sink.
“Use Lifebuoy soap to keep clean,” DelMonte said into a microphone as a stagehand sitting next to him held up an “applause” sign.
Jill Marrese, looking squeaky-Lifebuoy clean and elegantly charming in a red gown, sang a festive, “Silver Bells.”
The Villages Swing Band knows how to deliver a Christmas jolt and did so with romping “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
As the old radio show “You Asked For It” might say, here are the horns who made the music happen. Saxes: Tom Budzinski, Rollie Symicek, Jim Feltham, Eunice Wiliamson, Ernie Sowell and Bob Wile. Trombones: Tad Thompson, Bill Herrick, Mary Lund and Mark Moore. Trumpets:  Jim Staggers, Jill Van Syckle, Dave Olshanski and Dave Olson.

Billie Thatcher sings about having a merry little Christmas.
Billie Thatcher sings about having a merry little Christmas.

Billie Thatcher, who might be The Villages’ version of “Mother Christmas,” showed her soft, vocal prowess on the Judy Garland standard, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Up next was a commercial for Halo shampoo. And all you gals and guys from 1949 know that, as the announcer said, “soaping dulls hair, while Halo glorifies it.”
If that wasn’t enough to make you run out and buy a bottle of Halo, the Harmonix  Quartet – Brent Bierma, Jeremy Reynolds, Ken Wantuck and Willie Williams – came on stage and sang barbershop quartet harmony glorifying Halo’s magic. Then they turned serious with a reverent, a cappella version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

The Harmonix Quartet
The Harmonix Quartet

A group called “The Four Plaids” offered more sumptuous harmony on “The Christmas Waltz.” Harmonica man Phil Caltabellotta played an exquisite and energetic “Frosty the Snowman,” with help from the Swing Band’s Joe Mankowski on piano; Rich Roeske, drums; Bob Martino, guitar and Jay Mau on bass. They kept things swinging all night long.

Jill Marrese and John Rogerson sing "Baby It's Cold Outside."
Jill Marrese and John Rogerson sing “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

So did John Rogerson, who held that long stand-up mike with one hand just like Frankie Sinatra as he crooned such numbers as “Let It Snow” and “White Christmas.”
Rogerson and Marrese are always a dynamic duo and they combined on a frisky and funny “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Marrese took a sexy, whimsical turn on “Santa Baby” and Billie Thatcher captured the essence of the season with “The Christmas Song.”
Finally, Jean Butler and the Swing Band took everybody home with a joyous “Sleigh Ride” and proved the Christmas spirit of 1949 is alive and well.

Jean Butler leads The Villages Swing Band.
Jean Butler leads The Villages Swing Band.

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