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The Music Changed When the Lusitania Went Down

A Special Video/Radio Presentation By LtCol. Richard Beil about How America's Music Evolved During the World War One Era.

The following video and radio program audio was presented by Parlorsongs principal Rich Beil on November 11, 2012 on Central Texas PBS station KNCT in homage to Veteran's Day. We are delighted to present this to our visitors as a very special feature presention and a salute to all Veterans who have served and protected our freedoms for over 200 years.

In our articles discussing the music of World War I back in late 2000/early 2001, we made mention of the tremendous anti-war sentiment that prevailed in 1915 and how that sentiment gradually changed.  By 1917, composers/lyricists who had been against the war in 1915 were writing songs that were decidedly patriotic.  It's unfortunate that they can't be interviewed today.  It would be interesting to learn whether they had actually changed their minds or had them changed by the policies of the government.  As had happened with the Alien and Sedition Acts in the late 1700s, there were severe restrictions on free speech enacted by Woodrow Wilson's administration once the decision had been made to enter the war.  

Additionally, private groups like the National Security League took it upon themselves to define what was appropriate in terms of national security.  "Its leaders devised a nationalist agenda that provided for a strong defense against enemies of the state at home and abroad. Enemies included all those who were not "100% American," eventually meaning not only foreign nationals, pacifists, many immigrants, and political radicals,'* but also trade union members, Congressmen who voted against critical pieces of
legislation, and even the people of Wisconsin."[1]

The NSL's 100 percent American campaign had not waited for Congress to declare war on the Central Powers. Socialists, hyphenated Americans, and opponents of total mobilization for war were not "100 percent American", [2] former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to NSL chairman S. W. Menken, "Citizenship must mean an undivided
"Citizenship must mean an undivided loyalty to America; there can be no citizenship on the 50-50 basis; there can be no loyalty half to American and half to Germany, or
England, or France, or Ireland, or any other country". [3]

"Prior to and following America's entry into the First World War, German Americans in many states became subject to ridicule, ostracism, and occasionally violent attacks. They were denied their civil and constitutional rights. Anything German was anathema. The names of streets and cities were changed from German to English. The teaching of German was halted in public schools. The citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, lost no time after war was declared. The city government changed the names of 13 German streets; the Board of Education halted the teaching of the German language, and the public library removed German books and periodicals from its shelves. These things were accomplished only three days after the declaration of war on the Central Powers on April 6, 1917." [4]

"In certain counties of Iowa, (e.g. Cedar County), vigilantism was growing. Free speech, especially the wrong kind, was not en­couraged. The distinction between disloyalty in thought or speech and disloyal behavior became blurred." [5]


In any event, whether they did change their views or were afraid of voicing them, songwriters by 1917 were firmly "on the bandwagon", writing patriotic tunes.

Since November 11th was originally called Armistice Day celebrating the end of World War I, we thought it fitting to publish a Veterans Day salute discussing this phenomenon and paying tribute to the Tin Pan Alley composers who contributed so much to the war effort with their songs.

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[1] Shulman, Mark R., "The Progressive Era Origins of the National Security Act" (2000). Pace Law Faculty Publications. Paper 223. http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/223
[2] ibid
[3] "The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt", supra note 73, at 1144 (quoting Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to S. Stanwood Menken (Jan. 10,1917)). 
[4] Heinl, John. "Anit-German Hysteria During World War One". Paper written for graduate course at Kent State University. 2001

[5] ibid

This article published November, 2012 by Richard G. Beil and the Parlor Songs Academy, Copyright © 2013 by Richard G. Beil. For academic or private use of the material in this article please see our usage policy.



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