Denver singer Marnie Ward’s grandfather fought in World War II. Her father fought in Vietnam. She wasn’t a military kid per se, but that family history did instill in Ward an appreciation for the sacrifices service members make.
That was why she volunteered to take part in a two-week-long event organized by the Rocky Mountain USO: Knitting for Our Troops. Originally, Ward had just planned to wield a pair of needles. But one of the event’s organizers knew of her background in musical theater and asked Ward to take part in a performance to serve as the climax for the knitathon. Her assignment? Fifteen minutes of material from some of the most iconic performers in American culture: The Andrews Sisters.
Ward recruited fellow vocalists Christine Herivel and Amy Siebert and began rehearsing. Before they even reached the performance, the trio knew it wasn’t going to be a one-time thing; that they would keep going with the act.
Now, five years later, The Revellie 3 is a full-time job for Ward, Herivel and Siebert, who perform upwards of 70 times a year, domestically and abroad. And everywhere they play, the songs are intrinsically intertwined with military history.
“It really told the stories of what was happening pre-[WWII], during the war and after the war,” says Ward. “When you talk to people, you can see in their eyes, it is literally the soundtrack to their generation. As a generation, we haven’t seen music tie us together in the same way since then.”
Though there’s an obvious connection with songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” the ties between The Andrews Sisters and the military are much deeper. The megaselling swing-era vocal act did so many USO performances and promotions for war bonds they were officially dubbed “Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service,” and were reputed to pick a trio of serviceman at random to join them for dinner at every performance.
In many ways that makes The Reveille 3 transcend simple entertainment and become something closer to oral historians or cultural memory keepers, especially for older vets.
“We get told, ‘The last time I heard that song was when I was on a submarine that got hit up the rear end,’ or ‘I danced with my girlfriend to that song before I was deployed,’” says Ward.
Because of that role, the band performs nearly as often in atypical venues like retirement homes as it does on festival stages. And Ward says those gigs are some of the most affecting.
“There’s times when we’ve done shows in memory care units when we don’t get applause because it can’t physically happen, or because there isn’t that mental connection anymore,” says Ward. “But there’s a tension that replaces it that you can tell that listeners have and we can feel. It’s a very different feel from there than the 1940s Ball.”
There have even been times when the performance has brought seniors back from the mental brink, like the woman at a memory care clinic that doctors told Ward no longer spoke or sat up straight, but who sang along with every word.
“They said this woman doesn’t usually have conversations,” Ward says. “For her to have physical posturing, to have her mouthing the words along with us, that’s really powerful.”
But as much as The Andrews Sisters mean to American vets, The Revellie 3 has discovered they mean even more to Europeans. The band recently returned from France, where it performed for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Sainte-Mère-Église by the soldiers that landed on D-Day. More than 20,000 were in attendance, including more Andrews Sisters tribute acts. And they all ate it up.
“It’s not to say that we don’t get that reaction here, but it’s not on the scale,” says Ward. “When you have fought a war on your own land, and your language and your culture is being threatened to be taken away from you, the history is taught different.”
The one outlier for The Revellie 3’s military support is that it hasn’t performed for U.S. troops in the Middle East, largely because it requires too much of a time commitment for the band to logistically make the trip. But it performs frequently for military functions domestically.
In addition to the straight musical performances, The Revellie 3 also wrap the songs of The Andrews Sisters into musical theater performances, such as the performance it has scheduled at Molly Supports the Troops, happening at Denver’s historic Molly Brown House on Sunday, July 20.
But if you can’t wait that long, The Revellie 3 will be performing at The Highlands Ranch Fourth of July celebration in Civic Green Park, from 7-9:30 p.m.
And if you’ve served, don’t be shy about talking to them after the show. The Revellie 3 doesn’t go quite as far as The Andrews Sisters and pick a couple of fellas to join them at dinner, but Ward is happy to chat.
“I like to hear the stories of what The Andrews Sisters have meant to vetarans,” she says. “I didn’t suspect it at the beginning, that connection. But we have only been warmly welcomed.”