The WW IIunes are definitely all about music from the World War II era.
The foursome, set to perform at the South Coastal Library in Bethany Beach on Wednesday, May 23, ahead of Memorial Day, have been playing music from the early to mid-1940s for about seven years.
It all started, however, with a “chicken dance.”
As band member Carole Wolek tells it, she met a guitar player named Frank Nanna when his group, the Cowpokers, was playing at an Octoberfest program in Ocean City, Md., and she was there with her own group, the Happy Wanderers. A friend of hers was also in the Cowpokers, she said, and introduced her to Nanna.
Nanna, Wolek said, asked her to help him with a chicken dance. That was about seven years ago. The rest, as they say, is World War II history.
The WW IIunes (pronounced “World War Tunes”) have been crooning the songs that have held a special place in America’s heart since that time. Every Friday night, they play in the Blue Dog Café in Snow Hill, Md., and they can be seen at other local venues, from Fort Miles in Lewes to Ocean City, Md., where they have opened for the Glenn Miller Orchestra twice, Wolek said.
A “Big Read” event in Worcester County, Md., libraries was the introduction to World War II music for the group — but with a twist. Wolek said Nanna asked for her help, again — this time with a performance tied to a “Big Read” project involving a shawl that circulated between several people during World War II.
To tie into the book, Nanna wanted to try klezmer music, a traditional genre associated with Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Clarinetist Dave Dalfonso then joined the two — a clarinet is central to klezmer music — for what became several performances at Worcester libraries.
From there, Wolek said, “Frank got the idea that we sounded like the USO groups that went over and entertained the troops during World War II.”
Wolek’s husband, Leonard, who plays the clarinet, joined the group at that point, she said.
That’s when another connection of Nanna’s led to the Friday-night performances at Blue Dog Café — first once a month, then twice a month, then every Friday. The group plays country and Italian music, in addition to their World War II repertoire, Wolek said, but on the first Friday of each month, they don their WWII-style uniforms, and it’s like it’s 1942 again.
Wolek said the uniforms she wears during the performances are very special to her. One is a lieutenant colonel’s uniform from the Army Air Force.
“How I came to have that uniform,” she said, “was that a customer came to the restaurant and dropped it off” after seeing the group perform. She also owns a vintage sailor’s uniform that was given to her by a family friend.
“When I wear those uniforms, I feel very proud,” Wolek said.
She also has several World War II-era hats that belonged to her father-in-law, which she wears in the shows. Her Army Air Force uniform, she said, belonged to a pilot named Charles Thompson. She marvels that it fits her 5-foot, 4-inch frame perfectly, but adds that it’s not really so surprising, because pilots had to be small enough to fit in the cramped cockpits of the fighter jets of the time.
Three of the members of WW IIunes are in their 70s, including Wolek.
“We grew up with that music,” she said. “Those are songs that we remember. Nanna, who is the youngster of the group, “just loves the music from that era. He keeps saying, ‘You really need to know music to play it,’” she said.
The WW IIunes will perform a patriotic music program at the South Coastal Library, at 43 Kent Avenue in Bethany Beach, from 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23. The program is free and open to the public.
The group can also be enjoyed at the Blue Dog Café at 300 N. Washington Street in Snow Hill, Md., each Friday night. Reservations are necessary for that venue.
By Kerin Magill