‘Spirit of the USO’ brings back Big Band era for a night

Dec. 30, 2013 @ 05:01 PM

As 2013 winds down toward 2014, one spot in downtown Lenoir will travel back in time to usher in the New Year the way Americans did it in the 1940s and ‘50s.

The “Spirit of the USO” New Year’s Eve Party fundraiser, hosted by Pop Ferguson Blues Inc., will take New Year’s back to the days when the country swung to Big Band music, and to a time when Lenoir bluesman Pop Ferguson was overseas playing guitar in officers’ clubs during World War II.

The idea, said Joe Delk III, one of the party’s organizers, was to “hearken back to those golden years” and recreate something like a USO show that could have happened just after the war, when USO clubs all over the world were welcoming American troops home and America was “on top of its game.” The USO, or United Services Organization, was formed in 1941 to lift the morale of U.S. troops with entertainment events.

The party at The Distillery, at the corner of West Avenue and Boundary Street in Lenoir, will feature Big Band tunes by Silvio Martinat’s Swing Band, and performances including Denis Yoder, Bryan Clark, and a ladies’ trio emulating the Andrews Sisters — performing songs like “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.”

Ferguson also will perform, showcasing the kind of music played at those officer’s clubs in Europe after joining the U.S. Army before his 16th birthday. When his superiors found out he could play the guitar, they put him to work.

“Pop loves to play, he loves to share,” said Ferguson’s son, Clyde Ferguson Jr.

He said one intention behind the party is to bring people in the county together, stronger, going into 2014, which Ferguson hopes will bring great new things for the county.

“It’s about hope. That’s what the USO is all about -- hope,” he said.

People are saying the new industry in the county is tourism, Ferguson said, and the key to that will be for Caldwell County to hold on to its roots and build on its authentic culture.

Funds from the event will go to Pop Ferguson Blues Inc., a nonprofit focused on music education in schools, with hands-on blues workshops, demonstrations, concerts, and the “Roots Music in Schools” program that teaches cultural influence through the use of root music, oral history and storytelling paired with musical performances.

The party is the second in a series started by the organization to help raise funds for its educational programs, with October’s “Cotton Club” party that celebrated the jazz of the 1920s being the first. A third, Mardi Gras-themed party, is planned for the spring. Each event falls under the theme of “Roots, Branches and Stems,” connecting local musical heritage to its roots as well as the places its branches now reach.