The notion that the greatest generation grew up during the Depression, fought or supported the World War II effort and participated with the post-war boom appears to have its genesis in Tom Brokaw. A broadcast journalist by trade, Brokow's 1998 book, "The Greatest Generation," started the trend in looking more closely at that generation, which, in turn, has given us a WWII monument in Washington, D.C., a plethora of books and articles telling the stories of those who for so long kept their secrets and even the Great Generation Foundation.
But what about those who were left behind: the parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends and acquaintances? The Minnesota Historical Society, in collaboration with the Minnesota regional library system, decided to showcase those on the home front with a traveling program, "The Golden Age of Radio."
"The Golden Age of Radio" will be presented by the Bemidji Public Library in a special program at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at Calvary Lutheran Church, 2508 Washington Ave. S.E. Vocalist Prudence Johnson, a Minnesota native, and musician Dan Chouinard will perform during an interactive program of classic radio standards from the 1930s and '40s ("Beer Barrel Polka" and "Singin' in the Rain"), photos, stories and audience sing-a longs. The event is free but reservations must be made at the Bemidji Public Library in person or by calling 751-3963. The Blackduck Library will provide transportation with a handicapped-accessible bus; to make a reservation, call 835-6600.
"The Minnesota Historical Society asked me to put something together for the grand opening of the exhibit, 'The Greatest Generation,'" Johnson said during a phone interview. "And the plan was to then take the show on tour. There is a whole catalogue of authors, history kits, music and that sort of thing.
"This is a great exhibit because it is about people from Minnesota."
Johnson contacted Chouinard, a friend of hers, because they have worked together for many years and he was a logical collaborative partner. They put together a show with music, singing, and pictures from the Historical Society, which will be projected on a large screen along with lyrics for the songs.
Johnson got her start singing country music and said Tammy Wynette was her favorite. When asked if the transition from country music to big band singing was a natural transition, she agreed it was because they are both about storytelling. The lyrics in both musical genres tell a story from start to finish; we all know what happens at the end.
"I am even more interested in folk and country music than I was years ago because of this storytelling factor," Johnson said. "The radio was such an important part in the lives of people growing up in the Depression because it was before there was any other kind of media like that except perhaps for magazines."
Chouinard lives in Minneapolis and after having completed his studies at St. John's University, he spent four years teaching at the University of Minnesota. In 1994, he founded the radio series, "The Singer's Voice," which was broadcast live from the Dakota Jazz Club. More than 200 singers were spotlighted over the course of the show which had a different singer each week. Chouinard plays the piano and accordion as well as being a story teller.
"He plays that era of music so effortlessly, he understands it," Johnson said. "Even if you just come for that reason, he is so great. We have created a program for the stage that is about something, the music is strung together with stories. We have all these great old photographs from the society and some we collected ourselves."
Johnson and Chouinard are changing the program a bit to include more seasonal songs like "Winter Wonderland" and also some Scandinavian holiday songs. Attendees are invited to dress in vintage-inspired attire and tap their toes to favorites like "A Tisket a Tasket" and "Accentuate the Positive."
Johnson recalled playing in Bemidji some time ago when Natalie Roholt and Patrick Reilly invited her to play a concert in Thompson Recital Hall at Bemidji State University. She spoke of the great experience it was for her and the audience and is looking for the same kind of warm reception this time up in the Northwoods.
The KRLS.org website has information on the performances at other libraries in the system as well. "The Golden Age of Radio" is funded with money from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and is presented as part of Minnesota's Greatest Generation in the Libraries, a partnership between Minnesota Regional Public Libraries and the Minnesota Historical Society.