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GI Jive features music from World War II

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Music played a big part of the culture in the 1940s with its patriotic and sentimental themes as World War II raged around the world.

    On Saturday, Feb. 9, after a four-year hiatus, area residents will get a chance to relive those times as the National D-Day Memorial brings back the GI Jive 1940s dance. The event will be held, this year, at the Elks National Home.
    Karen Nichols and her Quartet will bring the sounds of the times to the stage.
    Raised in a home where her father played in the big bands, and her mother was a radio show copywriter and pianist, Nichols grew up hearing the stories of life as a musician in the ‘40s.
    “He just loved that era so much,” Nichols said of her father, who sang and played trombone with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.
    The music of Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, The Andrew Sisters, Glenn Miller, Rosemary Clooney and Dinah Shore, along with many others, was always in the background. So it’s no surprise that Nichols’ musical tastes and style, as a singer and pianist, tended towards this era of music.
    As a musician in the top Beverly Hills and Los Angeles hotels, she would mix in vocal versions of songs like “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Moonlight Serenade” with popular contemporary hits. Her stylistic versatility ranges from original music to cabaret, pop and jazz.
    Nichols plays the keyboard with a number of different jazz groups, including Sway Katz Big Band and The Sophistokatz. At GI Jive, the Karen Nichols Quartet will feature veteran jazz trumpeter Scott Walker, who contributes his melodic, stylistic and improvisational horn lines to the ensemble’s repertoire. Bassist Ben Masters and drummer Larry Scott complete the group providing music for the dance.
    Nichols is a very versatile musician.
    “We’re going to try to mix the mood up a lot,” Nichols said of the event. “It is important that people honor the memory of that time and this is a fun way to do that.”
     April Cheek-Messier, co-president of the D-Day Memorial Foundation, agrees.
    “This is just a great opportunity for people to come out who are interested in that era,” Cheek-Messier said.
    And they’ll have a chance to meet a number of veterans as well.
    “It mingles nostalgia with a sense of history,” she said of the GI Jive Dance.
    And she’s glad to have the event’s venue in Bedford, the home of the Memorial. In previous years it had been held in Roanoke.
    Cheek-Messier expects a good mix of veterans and the general public to attend—both young and old. “It’s a lot of dancing,” she said, adding that they’re also planning to have a dance contest.
    The dance begins at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m.
    Tickets are on sale now, but quantities are limited.
    Call the National D-Day Memorial main office to reserve tickets. Tickets are $65 each or $120 per couple. 
    The National D-Day Memorial is asking that those who cannot attend consider making a donation to cover the cost of sending a World War II veteran to the dinner and dance.  Call the Foundation for more information, 540-586-3329, or mail a contribution to: National D-Day Memorial Foundation, ATTN: GI JIVE, P.O. Box 77, Bedford, VA 24523.
    All proceeds from the dance benefit the National D-Day Memorial and its educational initiatives.