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The Music Didn’t Stop for Wartime Britain

By Jillianne Hamilton
April 18, 2023

Music and dancing appear in all three of my WWII romance novels. Music brought people together during wartime when they needed fun and companionship the very most. Death was all around you all the time so many people grabbed joy when they could and a lot of the time that took the form of attending a dance or enjoying music at the local pub.

If a dance hall wasn’t your scene, you could always enjoy music on the radio. Almost everyone had a radio at this time—even most homes in the country that didn’t yet have electricity had battery-powered radios!

You can check out some of the most popular tunes of the wartime era in this Spotify playlist.

Swing music got people on their feet

The Glenn Miller Orchestra was always a crowd favorite. “Moonlight Serenade” continues to be one of the most recognizable, romantic ballads in western history. “In the Mood” and “Chatanooga Choo-Choo” were just two of his extremely popular upbeat songs. (Miller’s promising musical career was unfortunately cut short when he signed up as a military entertainer and his plane disappeared over the English channel in 1944.)

Another swing orchestra favorite of the time was Benny Goodman. Known as the “King of Swing.” In a time of uncertainty, overwhelming stress, and sadness, many danced like it was their last night on earth to songs like “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

A sad night for music in London

The London jazz clubs of SoHo were where the coolest people hung out. Black musicians flourished in these clubs and they became increasingly popular for both white and Black attendees throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Despite a rush to shut jazz clubs down in the 1930s, they reopened at a quick pace and authorities eventually gave up.

One of the swankiest, upscale places in London during the early 1940s was The Café de Paris, just off Leicester Square. In March 1941, the 26-year-old bandleader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson had just begun the performance when a Nazi plane bombed Piccadilly. Two bombs entered a ventilation shaft and made their way down into the ballroom and exploded. Snakehips and 33 other people were killed and over 80 people were injured.

Credit: Photo by Associated Newspapers / Daily Mail / Rex Features (882847a)

Music to fight the führer to

No article about wartime music is complete without mentioning Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrews Sisters. The jump blues song was based on an earlier song (“Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar”), debuting in a 1941 Abbott and Costello film and becoming an instant smash hit. It was even nominated for an Oscar. And whyyyyy was it such a hit?

  1. It was patriotic and not only did Americans dig that, but it also became a hit in the UK.
  2. It slaps. Let’s face it, the song slaps. There’s a reason Christina Aguilera (basically) covered it for her 2006 single “Candyman.” Because this song slaaaaaaps.

One of my favorite parts of the 2016 WWII film Their Finest features two actresses singing “Can’t Black Out the Moon,” a sweet ballad about finding love during the Blitz. The original 1939 version by Jay Wilbur and His Band (vocals by Sam Browne) made its debut just as wartime blackout measures were introduced in the UK. Blackout curtains were used during WWII to plunge English cities and towns into darkness, giving them some sense of protection from German bombers.

There were lots of other war-themed songs released during this era and they seem to fall within one of two categories:

1. Songs about loving someone in the armed forces or missing your girl back home while serving
“The Girl Who Loves A Soldier”
“I Fell In Love With An Airman”
“Oh! How He Misses His Missus”
“Cleanin’ My Rifle (And Dreamin’ Of You)”

2. Songs that got people hyped up to go to war or being brave on the homefront
“Imagine Me In The Maginot Line”
“Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition”
“The King Is Still In London”
“Berlin Or Bust”
“Der Fuehrer’s Face”
“The Deepest Shelter In Town”
“Victory Roll”
“This Is Worth Fighting For”

My WWII romance novel is available in ebook and paperback and its two sequels will be released later in 2023.

Jillianne Hamilton

Written by Jillianne Hamilton

Jillianne writes delightful historical fiction and historical romance featuring rebellious ladies and happy endings. Her debut novel was shortlisted for the 2016 PEI Book Award and her Victorian historical fiction novel, The Spirited Mrs. Pringle, was longlisted for the 2022 Historical Fiction Company Book Award. She is also the author of the WWII romance trilogy, Homefront Hearts. Jill lives on Canada’s beautiful east coast.

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