Two Suitcases and an Accordion ~ Traveling with the USO Camp Shows
Storyteller Dolores Hydock teams up with Birmingham resident Barb Sparkes to tell Barb's remarkable story about adventures performing in USO Camp Shows during World War II. Barb, now 85, was 17 when she began traveling as the accordionist for a 5-member "Tabloid Troupe," performing for men and women of the US armed forces in the US and abroad. Barb is on-hand to share her stories and play her original piano arrangements of wartime standards.
Click here or on the photo at left to listen to an interview with Barb on WBHM, Birmingham's public radio station.
Click here to read an article about Barb in The Birmingham Weekly.
Scroll down for some video excerpts from the show or scroll a little further down and click on the photos to hear Barb's gorgeous arrangements of some favorite songs.
Click on the arrow on the photo at left or below
for a video excerpt from Two Suitcases and an Accordion.
Barb Sparkes' third CD is now available!
"I'll Be Seeing You ~ Barb Sparkes Plays WWII Hits and Other Standards"
The CD features Barb's original arrangements of 26 favorite songs, including "Sentimental Journey," "White Cliffs of Dover," "Someone to Watch Over Me," and, of course, "I'll Be Seeing You."
The CDs are available at Prime Time Treasures, 1755 Oxmoor Road in Homewood (870-5555).
Click on the photo above to hear Barb (second from left ) playing her original arrangement of "Over the Rainbow." (It may take a moment for the file to download.)
Click on the photo above to hear Barb playing her original arrangement of "Stars Fell on Alabama." (It may take a moment for the file to download.)
Dolores tells how this program came about ~
Barb Sparkes has an appropriately descriptive name.
I was visiting Episcopal Place, a senior residence on Southside. Barb was seated at the piano in the lobby, playing dazzling arrangements of the songs that were being requested by the group assembled around the piano -- standards like "I'll Be Seeing You," "Stars Fell on Alabama," and "How Come You Do Me Like You Do Do Do?" I soon learned that the arrangements were all her original interpretations and she was playing completely by ear -- she doesn't use written music.
It turns out that for years, she made a living playing in piano bars and restaurants in her home state of Indiana (she says that "Somewhere My Love" from Dr. Zhivago is the only song that was requested as often as "Stardust"), and her fingers still dance across the keyboard with a light, swooping touch that brings out the wistfulness and romance in those classic songs from the great American songbook. Barb is now, as she says, the same age as the Queen of England and one year older than the Alabama Theatre, but she continues to play with a youthful energy and musical zest that makes the music sparkle. (Click on the black and white photos above for a sample of her playing.)
In 1944, when she was 18 years old, she was hired to play accordion for a 5-member "Tabloid Troupe" that performed at USO Camp Shows for GIs, sailors -- even ski troopers -- in the US and Europe. When I heard her story about that adventurous time -- and heard her play -- I knew I had to help other people meet and hear her. In the program Two Suitcases and an Accordion: Traveling with the USO Camp Shows, Barb shares her story and her lively original arrangements of the music of World War II.
Barb Sparkes is a piano and organ player with more than 60 years of professional experience. Her music focuses on the Great American Songbook from the 1920s to the present. Barb, the former Barbara Huey, is a native of Indianapolis; she began studying piano at age 8, and accordion and violin at age 10. She studied violin at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music in Indianapolis, now a part of Butler University.
In 1943, at age 17, she joined the USO Camp Shows as an accordionist, traveling with various Tabloid Troupes to 22 states in the United States. She next toured France, where she played to a variety of audiences – from 10,000 soldiers nightly at the military base in Arles, to the intimate setting of the Opera House in Grenoble, situated in the French Alps. Her final assignment was Germany, where she played U.S. Army base theaters. She returned to the States in November 1945.
Her career was put on hold for several years while she raised her family of six children. She and her husband, the late Julian Grant Sparkes, a tenor saxophonist, played as The Sparkes Duo in the Midwest during the 1960s. She has played gigs across the United States, in Ohio, Arizona, Florida, and Indiana, where she eventually earned a living playing piano and organ at clubs, restaurants and private parties.
Barb moved to Alabama in 2001. In 2002, she was a featured artist in a National Endowment for the Arts-funded performance of Birmingham’s best jazz pianists organized by local jazz artist Tommy Stewart. She is a member of the Alabama Theatre Organ Society, and she performed a concert on the Mighty Wurlitzer, known as “Big Bertha,” at the historic Alabama Theatre in November 2007. Barb is the focus of the story, “Two Suitcases and an Accordion: Traveling with the USO-Camp Shows,” performed with Birmingham storyteller/actress Dolores Hydock. In this program, Ms. Hydock narrates and Barb tells USO Camp Show-related adventure stories and performs original arrangements of wartime standards. The "Two Suitcases" show debuted in April 2009.
All video: Copyright Dolores Hydock 2010. All rights reserved. Please contact Dolores at firstname.lastname@example.org for photo permission.