Robyn Bell’s father probably didn’t have a whole lot of really fun memories from his time as an Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. But there was one day that was really special to him.
It was Christmas Day, 1968, and the USO tour starring Bob Hope came to his base.
“He talks about how much fun that day was,” said Bell, the conductor of the Bradenton-Sarasota based Pops Orchestra. Bob Hope, Ann-Margret, Gene Krupa, Les Brown and His Band of Renown. On Christmas.”
We’ll have USO shows from all the wars. World War II will be the first half, and the second half will be Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.
Bell’s too young to remember the era, or even much about Bob Hope. But she’s excited about the Pops Orchestra’s upcoming concert because that USO show was so special to her dad.
The concert’s titled “A Salute To America’s Veterans” and it’s scheduled for Sunday at the Riverview Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, and Monday at the Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida in Bradenton.
The star of the show is Bill Johnson, a Bob Hope impersonator who tours the country summoning the late comedy legend’s act and persona.
“It’s his full-time job,” Bell said. “He looks and sound just like Bob Hope. You’ll have a hard time telling the difference.”
Johnson will serve as the MC, just as Hope did during his many years of entertaining troops abroad with his star-filled USO shows.
Local performers will appear as other stars of Hope’s USO show, including the Andrews Sisters, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich.
We’ll have USO shows from all the wars (of Hope’s era),” Bell said. “World War II will be the first half, and the second half will be Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.”
Bell has another connection to Bob Hope’s USO shows of the 1960s. Her mother was a drummer with a band in Texas, and that band ended up being hired to tour U.S. military bases with the USO. Bell said she’s not sure that her mother actually performed on the same stage with Bob Hope, but her band would make the same tour stops, and play shortly before or shortly after him. Bell’s mother didn’t perform in Vietnam, but she did entertain American troops posted in Iceland and Greenland during that era. It wasn’t until later that Bell’s mother and father met each other.
The Pops Orchestra and Sarasota’s Gloria Musicae performed a free concert of patriotic music at the Sarasota National Cemetery for Flag Day. The orchestra received an anonymous $25,000 donation to continue its patriotic concerts, and that money is making it possible for the orchestra to offer reduced-price tickets for veterans and their families for its upcoming concert.
Details: Nov. 13-14, Riverview Performing Arts Center, 1 Ram Way, Sarasota (Sunday) and the Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton (Monday). 3 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Monday. $15-$25. 941-926-7677, thepopsorchestra.org.