The Silver Tones Swing Band and the Silver Belles bring the music of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s into today.
Photos by Beth Miller-Herholtz
On July 5, 2019, the streets of Warrenton filled with townsfolk at the First Friday celebration honoring our service members. Warrenton’s own Silver Tones Swing Band was the headliner entertainment that evening, set up in front of the John Marshall Courthouse and awaiting the march of service members down Main Street. As the service members approached, the band prepared to play Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol” to kick off the concert. This song, a well-known melody of the big band era, is just one of hundreds of great American classics in the Silver Tones’ music library. On the downbeat of the 17-piece swing orchestra, the streets came alive with swing dancers dressed in patriotic attire and the music of Glenn Miller filled the streets of Warrenton. The warm summer evening went on, as the band played favorites from many decades of music, including Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” and Benny Goodman’s version of the big band classic “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Young and old alike lined the streets and toes tapped as all enjoyed timeless American melodies from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. Good, clean fun, with good, clean music. That’s what the Silver Tones Swing Band brings to our community.
Founded by band leaders and husband and wife team Dave Shuma and Wendy Marie in 2012, the band has been gaining popularity steadily over the last seven years. Shuma recalls, “In the summer of 2012, Wendy and I were sitting at home enjoying an evening together. The conversation came around to our musical endeavors together and that we wanted more of them. I suggested that we start a big band. I knew that Wendy had a wonderful singing voice and that she was a great musician, so I asked if she would like to sing. Wendy immediately said, ‘Sure!’ And so, on a warm late summer evening in 2012, the Silver Tones Swing Band started in our garage.”
Shuma and Wendy Marie were members of the Fauquier Community Band (FCB) at the time of the band’s creation — Shuma on trumpet and Wendy Marie on French horn. They hand-selected several musicians from FCB to be key members of the early Silver Tones, including Sherman West on lead alto sax, Jon Carr on lead trombone, and Gerry Hoffman on clarinet and alto sax. This core group of musicians created the cohesive sound that you still hear today at Silver Tones performances. Hoffman recalls, “I remember the day Dave came up to Sherman and me in community band and asked which of us played saxophone and would be interested in trying some big band music. We both said ‘yes,’ and together we both pulled our dusty saxes out of the closets and made the trip to the Shuma garage for the very first rehearsal. It was a true ‘garage band,’ and I have been playing with the Silver Tones ever since.” Hoffman, a retired dentist and longtime resident of Fauquier County, continued, “I just enjoy playing the type of music a full big band puts out, all the sections coming together to create the rich sound of a big band versus a small jazz combo. And it’s the friendship of the entire gang, all playing music for fun, and not just looking for a paycheck for their time.”
The Silver Belles vocal trio, the sweethearts and headliners of the Silver Tones, are made up of Wendy Marie, Larke Pain, and Amy Hewes. This dynamic singing trio brings to life the great music of the Andrews Sisters, plus so much more. Wendy Marie sings lead, and when not singing the tight harmonies of the Andrews Sisters, you can hear the ladies performing classic songs like “Peppermint Twist,” “Shake a Tail Feather,” “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” “Route 66,” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” On special occasions, the ladies even do a rendition of Bruno Mars’ hit “Uptown Funk.” Silver Tones male vocalist Gene Bates joins the trio on classic numbers like “Kalamazoo” and “Accentuate the Positive,” and the four singers together do a smooth performance of The Temptations’ “My Girl,” with Bates on lead vocals.
The Silver Belles vocal trio and Mr. Bates have travelled near and far to entertain smaller audiences at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The vocalists sing to tracks of the Silver Tones recorded at a previous session and still create a wonderful musical memory for audiences. “Traveling with just vocalists is much easier than assembling a 17-piece band. And smaller, more intimate audiences can still enjoy a live performance,” says Wendy Marie. Around the holidays, you can find the Silver Belles visiting individuals at Fauquier Rehabilitation Center or Brookside Nursing and Rehabilitation in Warrenton, going room to room to bring the joy of music to people who can’t come out to see the band.
A mission of the Silver Tones has always been to support the military and war veterans. The Silver Belles have performed at multiple Honor Flights at airports and other locations. The Honor Flight Network’s mission is “to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.” The Silver Belles trio has volunteered their time to serenade American war heroes on multiple occasions, traveling to locations like Arlington, Harrisonburg, and Dulles and National airports, singing for veterans as they board or depart flights. Larke Pain recalls one Honor Flight performance by saying, “One of my most memorable gigs was singing for an Honor Flight. It was a rare opportunity to have some WWII vets among the group, and there was a gentleman with his escort and a cane coming slowly down the runway. When I asked if he wanted to dance, I thought it would be a slow shuffle, but instead, he threw his cane aside and swayed around the airport, singing “I’ve Heard that Song Before” in my ear all the while. The music just made the years melt away!”
The Silver Tones members have also volunteered their time for countless performances to raise money for music and arts programs in Fauquier County schools. Partnering with parent booster groups at Kettle Run, Liberty, and Fauquier High Schools, Silver Tones leadership worked closely to plan these fundraisers, and the combined efforts have raised over $15,000 to support the arts programs in Fauquier County schools. The next fundraiser swing dance is scheduled at Kettle Run High School on March 28, 2020, and the theme will be a Roaring ’20s gala dance to celebrate the 2020s. This dance will include a dance lesson at the start of the evening by swing instructor Valerie Pyle. Ms. Pyle, with dance partner Colin Hall, also teaches swing lessons on Tuesday nights in downtown Warrenton at Gloria’s on Main Street. Classes are hosted by Gottaswing (Gottaswing.com) and run in seven-week segments. Dance students learn the essential steps of swing dancing (also called Lindy Hop), which is great exercise and a lot of fun.
During the fundraiser partnerships with the local schools, Silver Tones members mentor young musicians who are interested in playing jazz. Before each fundraiser, several high school students are hand-selected by their band director to sit in with the Silver Tones at three rehearsals. Students sit side-by-side with Silver Tones musicians and learn several songs, which they perform live the night of the fundraiser dance. One of the young artists who participated in this mentorship program while in high school, Nick Furr from Fauquier High School, is now an active member of the Silver Tones as an adult and plays bari sax and tenor sax in the band.
You can hear the Silver Tones live at many local venues, including the Highland School Center for the Arts, Allegro’s summer concert series in Warrenton, the National Sporting Library and Museum’s summer concert series, or area wineries. The band can also be hired for private events, such as weddings and birthday parties. Carrie Volkman, a bride who hired the band for her special day, recalls, “The Silver Tones Swing Band gave life to ‘the swing dance wedding from heaven,’ to quote one of my bridesmaids. Dave and Wendy were flexible and easy to work with in planning the playlist, up to coordinating the wedding and reception timeline. The band members were all professional, polite, and sharply dressed. I was nervous that a 19-person big band would overwhelm the guests in our medium-sized indoor ballroom, but Dave, Wendy, and the rest of the lovely band pulled it off beautifully. I could ask for nothing more.” Carrie and her husband Ron are active swing dancers who have followed the band for years.
Silver Tones keyboardist, Katie Bryant, who works as an instructor at the Allegro Community School of the Arts, encourages everyone to come and support live music in our community. “Music is meant to be performed live. Before recording technology, music was always a social, community activity. I think the human interaction aspect is such an important part of the emotional impact that music can have. Members of the community should definitely come out and hear us and dance along, soaking up the energy that happens when great musicians play.”
When Shuma was asked what his vision is for the band, he said, “I want the Silver Tones Swing Band to always be the band that causes feet to tap, folks to dance, and audiences to want more. If the audience leaves a gig with great tunes stuck in their head and fond memories in their heart, then the Silver Tones have done their job. The Silver Tones will always be the band for the people.”