Inspired by her military veteran father, singer-dancer Erinn Dearth found her true calling with Letters From Home, her USO-style show that travels across the country to honor those who have served.
Have you always been a fan of USO-style music and tap dance?
Definitely. I still remember, after seeing a play at age three, declaring that I’d perform on stage and have my own theater one day. Tap dance was my first true love; I started taking lessons that same year. I took voice lessons when
I was around eight. I always knew I was going to perform and wanted to incorporate tap dance into it. I never wanted to do anything else.
I’ve also never listened to pop music. I only know ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s music and musical theater. My family was always playing oldies and musicals. My grandparents listened to Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters, and the McGuire Sisters, and my parents listened to Vietnam-era music but also all the standards like Eleanor Powell and crooners like the Rat Pack.
Tell us about Letters From Home’s origins:
I’d started a company called First in Flight Entertainment, and we were doing a lot of small, customized shows. One night, I was talking to my dad, and I told him I needed ideas for a new show. He said, “You’ve got to do a show for veterans.” He was a veteran of the Coast Guard and always spoke very highly of our service members.
I recruited two other girls, practiced tight three-part harmony with them, and taught them how to tap dance. We started in 2010 as a local Andrews Sisters tribute. One day, we did a show at a VFW in Raleigh, and the national commander was there. Afterward, he invited us to fly down to San Antonio to perform at their national convention. That show got our name out all over the country, and we haven’t stopped touring since.
What are your shows like now?
We do USO-style shows, as opposed to focusing on one specific artist. Most of the Letters From Home performances feature myself; Courtney Groves, who’s been performing with Letters From Home for three years now; and Dan Beckmann, who started with Letters From Home in the summer of 2018.
There are also several variations of the show. Sentimental Journey, our World War II show, features lots of numbers from artists like Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters, and Glenn Miller. We Gotta Get Out of This Place, our Vietnam-era show, features some amazing songs from Steppenwolf and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Love to Keep You Warm is an all-around fun classic Christmas show. Since all our shows are interactive and we’re always coming up with new material, no two are the same and it never gets old
How many shows do you put on each year? Where do you perform? How much time goes into it?
We’re on the road a good three hundred days a year, and we average about one hundred shows a year. We’ve performed on cruise ships for many years. We do air shows, including the world’s premier air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We’ve also performed at theaters, VFWs, and American Legions. Some of my favorite shows, though, are at retirement homes, since many veterans are so excited to be honored in their home.
We are constantly preparing for the shows. Between time in the car singing together, time by ourselves singing, and coming up with, learning, and tightening the choreography, we probably put six to ten hours a day into development and rehearsal. I alone probably log sixty hours a week. It goes back to our nomadic lifestyle—our offices are hotels and Starbucks.
Letters From Home is pretty much my life, but I wouldn’t do anything different. I love it with all my heart.
What are some of your most popular showstopping numbers?
“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is always a popular hit with World War II veterans and anyone who loves vintage music. It’s fun, upbeat, and has lots of tap dancing. I also enjoy performing “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” a Frank Sinatra song that is usually one of my solos in the show. Audiences have really responded well to “Bad Moon Rising,” which the three of us perform in an almost bluegrass style.
Also, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” is probably one of our most popular songs. I choreographed it to be an
a cappella dance set to the music that we all sing together in three-part harmony, using our tapping feet to represent the marching of the soldiers.
Besides performing, what other ways do you help veterans?
The little things matter. We’ll try to call veterans on their birthdays or on Veterans Day. One of my favorite things to do on tour when I see a veteran with a veteran’s hat on, even when we’re at a toll booth or in our hotel, is thank them for their service and start singing their branch song—they get so excited!
We also have this fun undertaking called the American Story Project, where we interview veterans after shows and share their stories on YouTube, and we just started a radio podcast called On Location, where we talk to veterans. On a personal level, after my dad passed away in 2015, I started the Pat Dearth Veterans Fund. This pays for our travel expenses to go to places like VA homes, hospitals, and veteran fund-raisers across the country—any veteran places that may not have a budget or where vets may have limited mobility. 100 percent of sales from our CDs, calendars, and other merchandise goes to these funds.
Was your dad proud of Letters From Home?
It was his pride and joy. He loved what we were doing for veterans and used to come to a lot of our shows. Letters From Home is my life, but it’s my dad’s legacy. I have a picture of him onstage at every show, and I talk about it being his idea. I feel him with me during the shows. He was my best friend and my mentor.
What are some unforgettable moments you’ve experienced at the show?
One of my favorite stories comes from years ago. We were in a VA hospital
in Asheville, North Carolina. After the show, a man stood up out of his wheelchair to give me a hug. All the nurses rushed over—I thought I did something wrong! Later, I asked if everything was OK. They said that it was, but he hadn’t stood up by himself in over three years. We went back to that same place six months later to do our Christmas show, and he was walking down the hall!
And then there was this super sweet couple. We were singing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and, as soon as the song started, a couple in the front row—a World War II veteran and his wife, who had to have been in their nineties—looked at each other. She got a little teary-eyed and smiled at him, and he smiled back, reached over, and took her hand. They gazed into each other’s eyes for the duration of the song. Afterward, he came up to me and said, “I just want you to know that that was the song I heard when I first saw my wife. Hearing it again was so special.”
How will people feel after a Letters From Home show?
In our shows, we strive to highlight positivity and all the good out there; I call it “outshining the shadows.” We do it through old-fashioned fun: a variety of singing, dancing, audience interaction, remembrance, laughter, and tears. I hope that people are changed for the better in their mind-set and in their spirit, and that they leave with a little kick in their step. It’s an experience, not just a performance.
For more info, visit lettersfromhomesingers.com