There’s something uncanny about how performing sisters Gracie and Lacy Miller evoke the sound, style and vibe of the swing era — a time when big voices and big bands were all the rage and the Great American Songbook coalesced.
“We like to call it jazzified pop,” Lacy Miller told the City Paper. “The Big Band and Swing era had its peak during World War II — some of the most uplifting music in American history was written when life was extremely difficult. We like to keep that message of hope alive.”
The duo celebrates their 25th anniversary Dec. 31 with a special 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve show with six-piece ensemble THAT Charleston Band at the historic Queen Street Playhouse downtown.
Conjuring up the heyday of Doris Day and Benny Goodman is the sister act’s calling card, and the two of them surround their abundant vocal gifts with expert choreography and original costuming to make the magic happen.
The sisters credit their parents for their unlikely preoccupation with 20th century style.
“Our mother showed us a lot of musicals growing up,” Gracie said. “She would bring home videos of the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. And then she started taking us to musicals to see on stage. And our dad loved black and white movies, like film noir. I was 8 years old, and I loved Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.”
Gracie and Lacy started creating original performances together in their driveway in St. Louis, Missouri, before taking their act on the road 25 years ago. Those grassroots productions burgeoned into a children’s theater group called “Broadway on the Driveway” that launched in St. Louis in 1995 and ran for 18 seasons at various locations. It eventually grew into an annual summer tradition with upwards of 90 young people in the cast performing on stages with full orchestras.
That experience helped them learn their various skill sets, with Gracie taking on dancing, choreography and directing and Lacy becoming an ace seamstress and marketing whiz. Lacy currently doubles as the marketing and communications manager for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra.
The girls started touring their sister act in the late ’90s, becoming a regional and then national success as bookings continuously grew. After a chance vacation to Charleston in 2014, the idea of relocating to a vibrant and growing community on the East Coast made sense to them.
“Once we moved here, the touring really took off,” Gracie said. “We perform all up and down the East Coast, anywhere from Miami to Washington D.C. to New York City. We also met some great musicians in Charleston and started bringing them on the road with us, as well as began performing with symphonies at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center and Coliseum.”
The Gracie and Lacy act is ever changing and constantly adapting in terms of theme, style and scale of production.
“NASA will call us and we are like, ‘Yeah, we have a 1960s space-themed show, of course we can do that for you.’ [Louisville, Kentucky racecourse] Churchill Downs will call us and we are like, ‘Yes, we have a horse race-themed show,’ ” Lacy said.
The change of pace that Covid-19 brought to musicians nationwide pushed the duo to focus on writing original projects including several songs, a musical and a children’s book.
The two have been tentative about publicly performing many of their original songs and have released only one to streaming services, a homage to Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. They are gradually slipping original songs into their shows and will feature a few on New Year’s Eve alongside holiday favorites and Great American Songbook classics.
Gracie and Lacey credit the joy and optimism of Great Depression and World War II era music as the foundation of their enduring repertoire.
“I feel like the music reminds people about the goodness that can be in the world even when things are really bad,” Lacy said. “And I think that’s why it’s still so relevant, particularly coming out of the pandemic.”
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