World War One As Illustrated On Sheet Music, Part Two
In part one of this series we looked at the issues before the war and some of the ways our music began to change as America entered the War. We saw that song played a prominent role in defining America's position(s) on the war and that the music publishing industry jumped into the fray with vigor and enthusiasm. As our boys went over there and the War developed, our music continued to change to reflect the situation. Patriotism still ruled as the number one topic for songs and the image of Uncle Sam appeared as never before. Songs such as Old Glory Over All featured Uncle Sam, the Flag and the image of millions of men marching off to war.
Stories of Uncle Sam's origins are varied. One interesting variation tells us that during the war of 1812, an honest old citizen of Troy, NY, was made inspector by the U.S. Government. He marked all goods that were passed with "U.S." The workmen in the area, not understanding that this stood for "United States" thought it referred to the old man who was lovingly called "Uncle Sam" by the area residents. So the term originated. During W.W.I artists used the image of Uncle Sam liberally. Always with the red, white and blue figuring prominently in the illustration. This cover The Old Flag's Calling You, from 1917 is but one example. I find the finger pointing to "you" with the title, an interesting twist on the "Uncle Sam Wants You" posters that appeared around this time. I wonder which came first? Click on the cover for the scorch version of this great old song. Web-TV viewers, click here for the MIDI version.
As the war developed, a number of themes for music predominated. Of course, patriotic themes continued to be important but with the boys away from home, focus shifted more to songs about family, including Mother and sweethearts, songs about the boy's well being (the prayer songs) and songs about letters to and from home. When it came to the action in the war, there was more of a tendency to focus on the humorous side of things. After all, we don't want to scare everyone at home into thinking their kids will be cannon mincemeat.
Regarding the mother songs, most focused on their valor, the fact that they are the strength of the country and the ones making the sacrifices (see Don't Take My Darling Boy Away From Me in our feature this month). In the song Joan of Arc, by Leo Woods, Woods says; of the mothers of France; "they have borne the burden of grief for many a day, Now other mothers sons enter the fray." Mothers are mothers around the world, all of them concerned for their poor sons no matter which side they were on, no matter how rich or poor. Alfred Bryan wrote in There's A Vacant Chair In Every Home Tonight; "In every mansion, every cottage all throughout the land, there's a mother's heart feeling blue." As the mothers at home were thinking of their sons, the sons were thinking of mom as well. One of the most poignant songs that address that issue is George L. Boyden's If I'm Not At The Roll Call, Kiss Mother Good-bye For Me, a soldier in fear for his life asks his buddy; "Tell he I know she loves me..and kiss her good-bye for me."
When the soldiers weren't fighting or writing to mom, they were thinking of their sweethearts and numerous songs were written that speak to the issue of the girl back home. Their dreams and thoughts about that special girl back home were expressed in songs like It's A Long Way to The U.S.A., and I Wonder If She Is Waiting In Her Old New England Town. One soldier remembers his sweetheart crying as he left but thinks ahead to when the war is over and his happy reunion in For Every Tear You've Shed, I'll Bring A Million Smiles. In Bye & Bye a soldier promises to bring sunshine and build a cottage for two. When he buys the lumber, "I'll give the stork our number Bye & Bye, Bye & Bye."
Likewise, the kids at home were important and many songs were written addressing that like this month's feature, Hello Central Give Me No Man's Land and Just a Baby's prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There), by M.K. Jerome, Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young. Here we have the writer speaking to how prayers can touch you but this child's prayer for their daddy made them cry. It is a sweet ballad that I'm sure touched many a heart. Web TV viewers, click here for the MIDI version. Other songs that focused on children and prayers were; Two Little Eyes Are Watching For Daddy To Come Home, Daddy, I Want To Go and Buy A Liberty Bond For The Baby.
The continued focus was on the issue of everyone will be fine, this war will end soon and I'll be home. In the meanwhile, the home front was an important part of the war effort and songs like last month's featured, Everybody Do Your Bit were important to keeping morale at home up and to keep the populace left behind motivated to help out. Soldiers had to be supplied and fed and mottoes such as "Food will win the war, don't waste it" appeared on many song sheets. Harry Von Tilzer made an urgent plea in The Man Behind The Hammer And The Plow; "Mechanic and Engineer, all honest sons of toil, the backbone of the world today, The man who tills the soil, It's up to him to win the battle now.." On the back of that music is a copy of President Woodrow Wilson's April 15, 1917 "Proclamation to the People;
On the front itself, a huge role was played by the Red Cross. Family and friends at home who were worrying about their loved ones were grateful to The Girl Who Wore A Red Cross On Her Sleeve; little Mary Brown who grew up as a tom boy but; "Now She's Over There, giving up her life at duty's call..and the ones who used to sneer, are the first ones now to cheer, and the little good for nothing's good for something after all." One of the greatest classic Red Cross songs is The Rose of No-Man's Land, by James A. Brennan and Jack Caddigan published by Feist in 1918. Click the cover to listen and see the lyrics using the scorch player, or Web-TV users, click here for the MIDI. This song is a tribute to the Red Cross Nurse who; "Mid the war's great curse stand the Red Cross Nurse, she's the rose of No Man's Land."
The honorable and long tradition of the Red Cross cannot even begin to be addressed in this short monograph but a short history may be in order. During the Italian War of 1859, the French and Sardinians fought a bloody battle with the Austrians. Casualties amounted to an enormous 30,000 dead and wounded. With this in mind, in 1862 John Henry Dunant suggested forming neutral voluntary aid societies for the relief of war victims. A Swiss welfare agency took up the idea and in a conference, the Geneva convention of 1864 for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick of armies in the field was adopted. The Swiss flag (the red cross) reversed became the symbol of humane and neutral treatment for war wounded and sick. Another very important agency that played a role in the war, mainly at home and after the war, at homecoming, was the Salvation Army. I will look at some songs related to their contribution in our third and final installment of this series next month
The American people were a resilient and patriotic lot during that war and the second world war that would follow in only a few years. Our music (and as well, that of other countries too) help the population and the soldiers cope with the horror and pain of war. As mentioned earlier, few songs truly addressed the realities of the war as our featured War Babies and a few others. One that did so, and pointed the way to a future without the war was the 1917 song by Harry Andrieu with E.J. Pourmon and Joseph Woodruff, After The War Is Over, Will There Be Any Home Sweet Home?". Click on the cover for the scorch version or Web-Tv viewers, click here for the MIDI version. In this song they speak of; "Angels weeping..many a heart aching..many a home vacant..many a child alone" and the change that will take place in the landscape and our lives. The cover art itself depicts death and destruction. Though it is likely this song offered little comfort to anyone about the fate of our soldiers, it does speak to the end of the war and a brighter time in our "Home Sweet Home." An odd note about this song; the inside shows music by Andrieu and lyrics by Pourmon & Woodruff. The cover shows Woodruff as the composer and Pourmon as lyricist. I think the cover is in error.
On that note, we will close this month's edition. Next month, we will look at other aspects of the music of World war One and look at the music that celebrated the end of the War and the homecoming of our soldiers. To return to our featured music this month, click here.
In Memorium, for all who lost their lives for our freedom.
If you missed part one, or want to return to it, click
here for part one.
A major source for much of the text discussion is from Variety Music Cavalcade, A History of Popular Music in America and the aforementioned Ann Latella article. All sheet music covers and songs are from the ParlorSongs collection. See our references page for details of our complete bibliography used for research for this and other essays in this series. This article as well as all content of the ParlorSongs site is copyrighted. We ask that you respect our work and contact us if you want to use any of this material.
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