Jennifer Duncan loves to sing the old songs. When she croons forgotten melodies, she awakens memories of lost loves and youthful pleasures.
Duncan is a songbird with a specialty. She sings the songs of the 1930s and ‘40s to the original Big Band arrangements that made swing music great. She is also a historian who can recount the stories behind the songs she loves to sing.
On Saturday, June 8, Duncan visited the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum and before a captivated audience, performed the music of the war years.
Duncan, who has a beautiful voice, performs for reunions and other functions. Years ago, she was asked to learn the Nat King Cole hit “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” for a Valentine’s Day banquet.
She grew up with a musical mother and a father who was a veteran of both World War II and Korea. She found herself moved by the song and by the audience’s warm reception of the old music.
Around the same time, her husband asked her what she wanted for her birthday. “I want my music,” she replied, meaning the music she grew up with in the 1970s and ‘80s.
It was then she realized what a powerful gift the music of youth can be. “It takes people back and helps them recapture their happiest times,” she said. “People are so surprised when they hear me sing the songs from World War II. They ask me, ‘How do you know that?’”
She said she once entertained at a Christmas party and was told not to expect too much enthusiasm from her elderly audience.
“They got up and started dancing!” said Duncan. “It doesn’t matter if your knees are bad and your back hurts. Sometimes, you have to get up and dance because the music makes you feel so good.”
Duncan increased her repertoire of swing tunes and romantic ballads from the early 20th century and now frequently performs at high school and veteran’s reunions. She has also entertained during breakfast at five Honor Flights that embarked from Columbus, Ga. The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization that transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials.
On Saturday Duncan performed about a dozen songs for an audience, beginning with the romantic ballad “I Only Have Eyes for You” from the 1934 musical “Dames.”
Performing with recordings of the original Big Band arrangements, she treated listeners to songs including “Summertime,” “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “God Bless America.” The audience joined in singing the patriotic anthem.
The early arrangements contain stretches of instrumental music to showcase soloists in the band. During these musical interludes, Duncan recounted tales about the songs and the era that created and loved them.
She finished the set with “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” which drew rousing applause.
A resident of Columbus, Ga., Duncan’s family has been traveling to St. George Island for almost 40 years. She said they come in the summer to enjoy the beach and, now that the children are grown, she and her husband return every December to celebrate their wedding anniversary. - By LOIS SWOBODA