There’s an unmistakable energy in the Andrews Sisters’ rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” the World War II tune that makes feet tap and hearts swell with patriotic pride. For those of us who weren’t around to hear the iconic trio in their heyday, there is a new generation keeping that spirit alive: The American Bombshells.
Founded in 2011 by USO member and Marine Corps wife Ali Reeder, the group is 17 women strong, and they travel as trios to military bases, veteran’s hospitals and events across the nation to spread great music and support for our armed forces.
The American Bombshells will be performing in Key West this weekend as part of the Naval Air Station’s Southernmost Spectacular. The best part? They’re anchored by a hometown girl, Stephanie Leone, who sings soprano. Stephanie is a Conch, and her family has deep Keys roots, working with Island Lobster Company and Historic Tours for many years.
“I don’t know where I came from, being an artist,” Leone laughs.
After graduating from Key West High School, Leone moved to New York, where she auditioned for the American Bombshells. “The first audition is: can you sing?” she said. “Then, it’s: can you dance? And finally, you interview with a retired military officer.”
Leone checked all the boxes and was invited to join. She’s traveled the country — and the world — as part of the group, singing, dancing and bringing joy to servicemen and women. They’ve appeared on national and international media as well, including “The Today Show.”
“Having been to military bases and hospitals and veterans’ homes, it’s changed my view on the military and the world. It’s made me feel really grateful for the life we have.” Leone also helps with auditions for the American Bombshells, seeking out women with the right sparkle. “It’s easy to find someone who wants to be on TV. That’s like 2 percent of what we do. You’ve got to give the same show if you’re singing for 50 people in a hospital, and you’ve got to make them smile.”
Inspired by yesteryear’s Andrews sisters and other USO performers, the Bombshells take making people smile very seriously. They also operate as a non-profit, doing about half commercial bookings to pay for the other half of non-profit bookings. Of their two shows in Key West, one is free to the public and the other ticketed (see box).
What will you hear at an American Bombshells show?
“We do the Andrews Sisters-style music, post-modern jukebox. … Be ready for an evening that will leave you feeling patriotic and proud to be an American and enjoy music from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga.”
Leone has been traveling with fellow performers Vanessa Simmons and Rayna Bertash for the last five years and feels “blessed to call them my family.”
Leone looks forward to returning to Key West for a weekend of armed forces festivities, bringing music, and always, smiles. The best part?
“One of my favorite parts of our concert is when we sing the ‘Armed Forces Branch Salute’ and get to recognize every veteran or active duty member that is in the audience when they stand for the branch they served. That moment is always really special to me, especially in my hometown where my Grandpa was in the Navy.”
American Bombshells Schedule
Friday, March 29 at 8 p.m. (gates open at 7 p.m.)
Concert on the Lawn
Truman Little White House
Saturday, March 30 at 11 a.m.
Vietnam War Veterans Day Tribute