Wartime Wednesday: The Music of WWII
I recently attended a classical music concert, and the final piece was a Robert Schumann composition. The quartet’s pianist gave a brief bio of Schumann and said that most scholars agree he is considered the quintessential representative of the Romantic era (1780 to 1910). That got me to thinking about the music that defined the WWII era, my favorite time period to research and write about.
There were many styles of music being played during the decade, but one that seems to define the era to me is big band, those seventeen piece collections of musicians led by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Who of us can’t name at least one tune performed by these men and their bands?
As with all eras, music was used to respond to the events of the day. In the late 1930s when it was evident conflict was building, and war was the most certain result, Americans were split over our responsibilities. It seemed that most US Citizens were isolationists – “it’s not our war, and doesn’t concern us.” By 1939, composers apparently agreed. Two of that year’s most popular songs were “Let Them Keep it Over There” and “Rockabye my Baby, There Ain’t Gonna Be No War.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans had no choice, nor did they want one. We went to war, and within days of the incident “Remember Pearl Harbor,” “Goodbye Mama I’m off to Yokohama,” and “We Did it Before and We Can Do it Again” were on the airwaves. Days after word was received about success on the battle fields, composers cranked out songs to celebrate such as “Hats off to MacArthur,” “Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima,” and “D-Day.”
There was a groundswell of patriotism among the American people, and musicians wrote songs to capture the emotion. Everyone remembers Kate Smith’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” but there was also “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere,” “The House I Live In,” “American Patrol,” and “This is Worth Fighting For.”
Musical numbers also talked about the woes and worries of the Armed Forces with “Somebody Else is Taking My Place,” “Everybody Knew But Me,” and the well-known “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” Women’s loneliness back home was dealt with in songs such as “No Love, No Nuthin,” “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old,” “He Loved me Till the All-Clear Came,” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”
The war finally ended, and composers had something to say about that too. “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” “My Guy’s Come Back,” and “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” are just three of the most popular numbers.
Music speaks of and to people’s hearts. What is your favorite WWII song?