Musical Patriotism, Circa WWI
By Linda Ulleseit
July 7, 2020
One of my favorite Goodwill finds! As the first sheet says “Benny Ryan scratched off de woids and me friend Violinsky knocked out de tune.”

I had a musical mother. We had a piano in our home, and she would often play as I sang along. We both loved Broadway and stage shows, and our repertoire included music from shows like My Fair Lady, Camelot, and—not surprising for a young girl with a big imagination—Alice in Wonderland.

We purchased most of our musical scores and sheet music at local music stores, but my favorite place to purchase music was our downtown Goodwill store.

It wasn’t just because the price was right (five to ten cents a song!), but because the sheet music was so different and so fascinating. Lots of the music we purchased at Goodwill was from the 1910’s and 20’s, and I’m sure that those purchases started my interest in the songs of George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin. Of course, my appreciation for vaudeville—the art form that is the centerpiece of A BRILLIANT AMBITION, my WIP—probably began with the Broadway show Gypsy, which was based on the life of child-vaudevillian-turned-burlesque-star Gypsy Rose Lee.

So, what does this trip down Ana’s Memory Lane have to do with our PLW “Historical Patriotism” Blogging Theme for July?

Patriotic Music of World War One, of course!

The various routes of American patriotism during WWI have been well chronicled, and I especially like this New York Public Library description about the role of popular music:

Recorded sound and motion pictures were used extensively during the war, as propagandists quickly seized upon these emerging mediums’ potential to reach large, diverse audiences. For its part, America’s music industry churned out a steady stream of war-related songs, many of which were penned by leading Tin Pan Alley composers, such as Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan. Featuring lyrics that were, by turns, sentimental, comic, heroic, or chauvinistic, recordings of these songs performed by popular artists of the day sold in the hundreds of thousands.

Today I wanted to share the covers and sounds of some of the music that stirred the blood of Americans old and young during WWI.

Words and Music by George M. Cohan

George M. Cohan’s Over There was the most famous of the WWI songs, with lyrics that called every able man to soldier his responsibilities to America.

Here’s vaudeville star Nora Bayes’s rendition.

Words and Music by Irving Berlin

When songwriter Irving Berlin was drafted into the Army he composed a musical tribute entitled Yip Yip Yaphank. It included Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, sung here by Arthur Fields.

John Philip Sousa, Composer

Of course, you didn’t need words to rally the troops. All you needed was a march by John Philip Sousa. His Liberty Loan March was written for the Liberty Loan Drives held throughout the country.

Lyric by Bud de Sylva and Gus Kahn; music by Albert Gumble

Although the Army was celebrated often, the Navy did get a little credit too.

Of course, not every song written for popular audiences during WWI were as patriotic as the ones above. (There were even some blatantly unpatriotic songs, although that’s a post for another day.)

I’d like to end this songfest with a little love. Here’s John McCormack singing Send Me Away with a Smile, a plea from a soldier to his sweetie.

Want more info about WWI’s patriotic music? The Library of Congress Collection of World War I Sheet Music is always available for viewing.

Linda Ulleseit
Written by Linda Ulleseit

Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).

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