USO: Performers for the Troops
The USO (otherwise known as the United Service Organization) was founded as a fun way to bring encouragement to and boost the morale of service members, through entertainment. Beginning in 1941, the USO is responsible for bringing some very notable performers into dangerous combat zones to entertain the troops. Some of the most well-known performers in history were recruited by the USO at one time or another. Here are some of the most popular USO performers of all time, and some little known facts about them.
A musician who blends rock, rap, and hip hop, Kid Rock not only sings, but is also known for song writing, producing, and acting. He has won five Grammy Awards over the course of his career so far. Kid Rock was so honored and inspired by the opportunity to participate in the USO tour that he dedicated his newest album “Born Free,” to those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
As a comedian, actor, vaudevillian, dancer, singer, author, and athlete, the question could be asked: What couldn’t Bob Hope do? With those many talents he regularly entertained the troops during his USO tours, and it was reported that he either hosted or appeared in 199 USO shows. Hope was born in 1903 and died in 2003, incredibly surpassing a hundred years of age. He was declared the very first honorary veteran of the United States military forces — a title he still holds today.
Known for his deep bass-baritone singing voice, Bing Crosby was an extremely popular singer and actor. He was well-known for his rendition of “White Christmas,” the holiday classic, among others. With his incredible talents, Crosby became a best-selling artist of the 20th century, amassing over a billion sales of his recordings in various formats.
One of the most famous entertainers in the world to this day, Marilyn Monroe took time out of her honeymoon in 1954 to bring her talents to entertain the troops while they were serving in Korea. Monroe was one of the most prominent sex symbols of the 50s, and remained a megastar until her unfortunate overdose death in 1962.
Spanning an incredible nine decades, Mickey Rooney was a star actor of film, Broadway, television, vaudeville, and radio. Not only did he serve in the military during the second World War, but he also earned recognition for his participation in the USO. Rooney performed in over 300 films over the course of his accomplished life.
Also known as “The Godfather of Soul,” James Brown entertained the troops with his performance in June 1968 while on the USO Pacific Tour. While many fans think of him with affection, in the documentary “Get On Up” it was shown that Brown did have a dark side, with spousal abuse being one of his demons. He passed away on Christmas Day in 2006, and he left behind a huge fortune which was estimated as numbering into the hundreds of millions.
Sugar Ray Leonard
For Bob Hope’s 40th USO Anniversary Show, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard battled an unlikely foe: actor Mickey Rooney. The bout was played up for comic effect, so Leonard’s full talents might not of been on display, but he was regarded by many as one of the greatest boxing talents to ever live. Leonard was the first fighter to ever earn upwards of $100 million dollars through his victories.
Performing as part of the 1991 USO Christmas Tour, Marie Osmond entertained the troops who were deployed in the Gulf War. The singer and actress rose to fame alongside her brother Donny when they co-hosted the Donny & Marie show in the 1970s but quickly established a solo career after the show ended.
In addition to performing in Germany for the troops in 2001, Ja Rule has had a noteworthy music career with six top ten records and four Grammy nominations. He’s also famed for his feuds with fellow celebrity rappers such as Eminem and 50 Cent. Ja Rule served two years in prison for gun possession and tax evasion in 2012.
Lopez brought her famously “insured” rear end to Germany in 2001 to perform for the troops at a concert featuring several other famous entertainers. J. Lo is known for her musical career featuring hit singles “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” and “Jenny On the Block.” She also increased her fame by acting in several popular movies over the years including titles such as Monster In-Law and Maid In Manhattan.
Crooner Wayne Newton performed for the troops in 2003 while they were serving in the Arabian Gulf aboard the USS Nimitz. Regarded by many as the “King of Las Vegas,” his track record as a singer and performer in Vegas has also earned him nicknames such as “The Midnight Idol,” “Mr. Entertainment,” and “Mr. Las Vegas.” Newton is best known musically for his hit song “Danke Schoen.”
In 2005, Toby Keith performed for the troops serving in Baghdad, and the performance was later featured on the Country Music Awards. Since 1993, country music star Keith has released seventeen albums, many of which have gone Gold or Platinum. Although facing early difficulties in getting his music to the masses, Keith is known for having made a promise to himself and to God that he would have a recording contract by age 30, and now Keith is one of the most well-known faces of country music.
Known for his zany talk show, “The Colbert Report,” and his comedic antics, Colbert made an appearance in Baghdad to entertain the troops, and while there he agreed to get a military buzz cut on stage. Now hosting “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS, the funnyman is well-known for his political commentary and parodies of politicians. Throughout his career, Colbert has won two Grammy awards, nine Primetime Emmy Awards, and two Peabody awards.
Noted actor Gary Sinise put on a show for the troops at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan during 2009 with his band, the Lieutenant Dan Band. Famous for his acting on “CSI: New York,” Sinise has won a multitude of awards over the years with a Golden Globe, Emmy, and a nomination for an Academy Award under his belt. Sinise has taken up the crime-fighting detective work again in his newest show: “Criminal Minds, “Beyond Borders.”
Known for her attention-grabbing singles such as “I Kissed a Girl,” Perry performed for the troops in 2010 as a part of USO’s “VH1 Divas Salute the Troops.” She grew up very much involved in the church, and even pursued a career in gospel music in her teenage years. According to Forbes, Perry was one of the “Top-Earning Women in Music” spanning the years 2011 to 2015.
Jay Leno was one of many performers who came to entertain those serving during the Gulf War. The famous host of “The Tonight Show” from 1992 till 2009 saw his career end amid much controversy between Conan O’Brien and the TV network. Leno later returned to head “The Tonight Show” in 2010 after a failed experiment hosting “The Jay Leno Show.” He continued working on the show until 2014 and immediately was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
Performing in Saudi Arabia for the troops fighting in the Gulf War, Steve Martin entertained with his comedy. Known for his acting career and unique style of stand-up comedy, Martin has played cherished roles in movies such as Father of the Bride, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Planes Trains and Automobiles. Although these talents were not used frequently later in his career, Martin is adept at juggling, magic, and creating balloon animals.
During World War II and in the span of 1941 – 1947, Judy Garland brought her singing, acting, and vaudevillian talents to the USO. Overall, Garland made more than two dozen films, but earned the most recognition for her role in iconic film The Wizard of Oz in which she played Dorothy. Garland was plagued by person issues such as financial crisis, multiple divorces, and addiction to drugs and alcohol. In 1969, she overdosed on barbiturates at the age of 47.
“Ol’ Blue Eyes” performed for the USO during World War II, and to this day he is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Over his career he amassed over 150 million record sales throughout the world. His career stalled in the 50s and he turned to Las Vegas as a regular performer. There he joined the Rat Pack, and his career was reborn. Sinatra passed away in 1998 after living an incredible career and life.
Robin Williams brought his comedic chops to the Afghanistan and Iraq War in behalf of the USO, and he was well known for his wildly entertaining stand-up act which included spot-on impressions and crazy characters. Although receiving immense success in his career – one Academy Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, four Grammys, and six Golden Globe Awards — he was haunted by personal demons and ultimately committed suicide by hanging himself in 2014.