During World War II, big band music captured the spirit of the whole country, young and old alike, boosting morale and lifting spirits.
Even today, the big band sound gains new fans as it retains old ones. "In the Mood," a 1940s big band music review, will be presented in two performances Jan. 17 at the Lucas Theatre.
"It's a cross-section, a variety show," says the show's creator, producer and pianist Bud Forrest. "It's two and a half hours of nonstop music for kids from 18 to 108.
"We've spent 28 years touring it and have been all across the United States. We've just returned from Australia.
"It's a retrospective, a look back at what it must have been like if a big band was coming to Savannah," he says. "We have a cross section to represent all the big band leaders and top singers of the time."
The show features six singers and dancers, as well as the String of Pearls Big Band Orchestra. The music and arrangements are all authentic because of the show's connection with the late Vic Schoen as the show's primary arranger.
It was Schoen who created all the musical arrangements for the Andrews Sisters. He also was the music director at both Universal and Paramount Pictures and one of the creators of the swing-era sound.
"He really was an icon," Forrest says. "People don't know his name, but they know his music.
"The singers and dancers are costumed and the dances are choreographed. They perform some numbers and sometimes the band plays by itself.
"The bottom line is this show is about the music," he says. "A good melody is timeless. 'Stardust' was written in 1927 and it is still one of the most recorded songs in history."
To listeners in the 1940s, big band music set the mood for a promise-filled future of hope and prosperity.
This was the last time all Americans would be listening and dancing to the same kind of music.
"In the Mood" was created to celebrate the swing era. The show was performed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of World War II.
The show was so popular, it was extended twice. Crowds lined up hours before curtain time.
In 1993, the show was repeated outdoors on Constitution Avenue, where thousands of people attended and many stayed to dance. In 1997, the show provided the entertainment at one of the inaugural balls for President Bill Clinton.
"At first, it was just in Washington, D.C.," Forrest says. "We were also doing corporate dates and parties. It became so popular, we decided to look around and see about taking it on the road.
"It's evolved over a five-year period," he says. "I saw the effect this music has on everybody and said, 'Let's see if there's any interest in taking it on the road.'"
There was definite interest. "In the Mood" joined forces with the USO for a series of tours across the country. The show also has been to Europe and Canada, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
"Big band music is still very popular," Forrest says. "It is American songs and American music. The title sort of says it all."
Even if you've seen the show before, it is constantly being revamped and updated. Forrest makes a point of greeting the audience after every performance to take suggestions of songs people would like to hear.
"I try to feature the best of the talent I have," Forrest says. "My hardest job is knowing what songs to leave out.
"It's endless," he says. "There's so much music, we can stay there and perform for two weeks, much less two hours."
The show is presented in segments and the second one is a real highlight.
"A great part of the show is we salute all veterans," Forrest says. "We're very pleased to have music that celebrates America.
"This is the music that moved a nation's spirit. It's real. We travel this country and play small-town America and the bigger cities.
"It's a thrill to do this," he says. "It's something I never get tired of doing. Those who have never seen big band before should come and find out what all the excitement is about."