I waited in the wings while Terry started the sprightly piano intro and the other JewelTones sang “All aboard!” My cue. I strode out front with the JewelTones' vintage suitcase, singing, “Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?” That song opened many JewelTones shows, and I had the little opening solo. I loved doing that bit because I got to mime looking around and being puzzled. Backing into line with the other JewelTones, I shifted to the background while Betsy, dressed as Rosie the Riveter, told stories of the past, and the other JewelTones took their turns out front in other songs.
I was lucky to be able to sing with the group for about ten years (literally--Lucky was my nom de Jewel). Those gigs were some of the best times of my life. Most of the performances weren’t glamorous—we sang in a lot of church social halls and community centers and backyards—but we tried to make every gig special, and the audience, usually older people, loved hearing our vintage songs. Though we had other outfits, our forties costumes were the most popular, as were that era's songs. Our costumer, Bonnie, found me this wonderful forties-style outfit, including this red hat with black feathers.
Joining the JewelTones was like gaining nine sisters and one brother (the pianist). We'd spend rehearsals singing "Sentimental Journey" and "Java Jive," eating Deanne's famous chocolate chip cookies, and laughing together. They were the friends who would loan me space heaters when my furnace went out, provide chairs and tables for a big party, bring me an apple pie when I was recovering from surgery. When I left the Bay Area, I left the group, one of the heartbreaking things for me about moving. I did go back and sing a few pieces with them at their 15th anniversary party (you can spot me in a few videos on their web site), but aside from that, I haven't been performing those wonderful old songs, and my JewelTones hat has been sitting in a box in the closet.
Recently, a friend who has a small theater put on a double bill of radio plays: The Third Man, and an episode of Fibber McGee and Molly. He suggested attending the performance dressed up, which I decided made it the perfect occasion to wear the JewelTones hat. Rather than wear the entire outfit, I re-purposed some other items from my closet, but I did wear the hat and shoes. (Those forties shoes are so cool, while I was posing for this picture, a woman passing by on the street asked me where I'd gotten them).
The plays were a lot of fun, and during Fibber McGee, my friend, Brent, sang a couple of forties solos, including “Embraceable You.” That song was the first JewelTones song I (nervously) soloed in, with a lot of encouragement. So watching my new friend, I thought about my old friends, my JewelTones family, far away but close to my heart.
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Ann Hillesland writes fiction and nonfiction and collects hats. In this blog she vows to wear (not just model, but wear out of the house) every one of her hats, blogging about their histories and their meanings for her.