published Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Valerie Duke brings Glenn Miller band home to the Choo Choo

Valerie Duke, 24, is the female vocalist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Center for the Creative Arts graduate was singing at the Chattanooga Choo Choo a year ago and now does almost 300 shows a year with the band.
Valerie Duke, 24, is the female vocalist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Center for the Creative Arts graduate was singing at the Chattanooga Choo Choo a year ago and now does almost 300 shows a year with the band.

VALERIE DUKE

Hometown: Chattanooga.

Age: 24.

Education: Center for the Creative Arts, was studying forensic science at Chattanooga state when she committed to the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Vocation: Lead female vocalist, Glenn Miller Orchestra.


FAVORITES

Movie: “V For Vendetta”

Book: “A Confederacy of Dunces”

Musical or play: “Next to Normal” and “Blood Brothers.”

Performer: Judy Garland.

Song: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland.”

Valerie Duke likes big-band music and always has. As one of the singing waiters at the Station House at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the numbers she chose to sing were almost always old-school standards.

When restaurant manager Allan Brooks learned that the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be returning to the Choo Choo for a performance, he arranged for Duke to audition. She thought it might be for a part-time or fill-in role.

She passed the audition and was named lead female vocalist after the previous singer, who had held the position for nearly a quarter century, retired.

Since August, Duke has traveled the country, and Japan, on a bus with the 18 male members of the orchestra, doing shows almost every day.

She usually does two solo pieces and two vocal group tunes with the Moonlight Serenaders during a Glenn Miller performance.

Q: Do you remember your first show with the orchestra?

A: It was in Lake Placid, New York, I think. It was terrifying, but exhilarating. The audience seemed receptive, so that was good.

Q: How many shows do you do?

A: We tour 46-48 weeks out of the year. It’s a year-round thing.

Q: Is that shows on the weekends or do you do multiple dates in each city.

A: It’s every day. We do one-night performances mostly.

Q: Wow. That’s a lot of travel. Have you learned any travel tips?

A: It is a lot of moving around, but you get good at it, especially packing. I tried to do a small suitcase at first, but it took too much time. Now I have a big suitcase and just don’t fill it. I definitely have a system. I’ve had to replace two cell phone chargers, so I check every outlet and part of the room before leaving now.

Q: Have you enjoyed being part of the group? Has it been great or have there been ups and downs.

A: There have been ups and down, but mostly because we are on the road. It is difficult to be on the bus that much. I miss driving. I love to drive. But, it’s been much better than I imagined. They are all great people and I have learned so much about life, and music.

Q: You are the only female in the group. What has that been like?

A: It’s like having 18 brothers. I have pretty thick skin. It is a whole different culture, though. That is for sure.

Q: Do you feel like you are a better singer today from the experience?

A: I would hope so. We get recordings of shows. The director who I started — he has retired since then — suggested it would help and it has. The guys are really a lot of help.

Q: Are you having fun?

A: YES. Definitely. Going on stage is so thrilling.

Q: Is this something someone does for a couple of years and move on or is a long-term gig?

A: The previous soloist did this for about 25 years I think.

Q: What are your goals or plans for the future?

A: My goals have changed kind of. I’m working on, or in the process of, getting a CD started.

Q: What type of music?

A: Standards. Big band music with a trio. Recording a CD was not something I even thought about before. I also know I might want to try some musical theater.

Q: How do you feel about coming back home and performing?

A: I’m going to be so nervous. It is so much easier to sing in front of 2000 strangers than even three or four people you know, but I’m excited.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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