Role of music in World War II

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World War II was the first conflict to take place in the age of electronically mass distributed music.

Americans adopted radio and long playing records in mass. By 1940, 96.2% of Northeastern American urban households had radio. The lowest American demographic to embrace mass distributed music, Southern rural families, still had 1 radio for every two households.[1]

Similar adoption rates of electronically mass distributed music occurred in Europe. During the Nazi rule, radio ownership in Germany rose from 4 to 16 million households.[2] As the major powers entered the war, millions of citizens had home radio devices that did not exist in the First World War. Also during the pre-war period, sound was introduced to cinema and musicals were very popular.

Therefore, World War II was a unique situation for music and its relationship to warfare. Never before was it possible for not only single songs, but also single recordings of songs to be so widely distributed to the population. Never before had the number of listeners to a single performance (a recording or broadcast production) been so high. Also, never before had states had so much power to determine not only what songs were performed and listened to, but to control the recordings not allowing local people to alter the songs in their own performances. Though local people still sang and produced songs, this form of music faced serious new competition from centralized electronic distributed music.

German English song[edit]

"Lili Marlene" was perhaps the most popular song of World War II with both German and British forces. Based on a German poem, the song was recorded in both English and German versions. The poem was set to music in 1938 and was a hit with troops in the Afrika Korps. Mobile desert combat required a large number of radio units and the British troops in the North African Campaign started to enjoy the song so much that it was quickly translated into English. The song was used throughout the war as not only a popular song, but a propaganda tool.

American songs[edit]

American troops had regular access to radio in all but the most difficult combat situations, and not only did soldiers know specific songs, but specific recordings. This gave a nature to American troops music during WWII, not as much songs sung around a fire or while marching, but listened to between combat on Armed Forces Radio.

Take note of the non-aggressive and hopeful tone of the song “When The Lights Go On Again”:

When the lights go on again all over the world
And the boys are home again all over the world
And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above
A kiss won't mean "goodbye" but "Hello to love
When the lights go on again all over the world
And the ships will sail again all over the world
Then we'll have time for things like wedding rings and free hearts will sing
When the lights go on again all over the world
When the lights go on again all over the world

The U.S just like any other country was able to utilize the exponential growth of the technological age to compose music for various reasons. In Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II, it is made clear that music composed had various purposes, but more importantly it mentions the tension that grew between institutions in order to find the right way to use music for U.S overall interest. Examples can be seen throughout the different types of songs being produced and publicized during this time. Songs like I’ll Be Seeing You (1938) and Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition (1942) were songs that kept the citizens back in the U.S calm and hopeful for the return of their loved ones.[3] Fauser, Annegret. Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print. On the other hand, these songs had other effects on the soldiers fighting abroad. For them songs like these brought nostalgia and homesickness.

With the war brewing through the 1940’s, initiatives to help the soldiers continue fighting arouse. With drafting numbers reaching close to 500,000, the Army along with other Defense institutions began to make military bands which would serve the purpose of boosting morale in the Home Front, while at the same time keeping Patriotism and Nationalism at an all-time high.The first patriotic war song of WWII in the U.S was “God Bless America” written by Irving Berlin for a World War I wartime review, but was withheld and later revised and used in World War II. [3] Winkler, Sheldon. The Music of World War II: War Songs and their Stories. Bennington: Merriam Press. 2013. Print. There were many other popular patriotic wartime songs during this time like, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” by Glenn Miller and “Arms for the Love of America” by once again Irving Berlin in 1941. [3] Winkler, Sheldon. The Music of World War II: War Songs and their Stories. Bennington: Merriam Press. 2013. Print.

After successful incorporation of music into the war efforts, more was needed in order to keep hopes alive and stable both back in the U.S and in the Home Front. Various times music was used as a tool for battle in the war, whether it was to entertain or to recuperate the soldiers during the war. [3] Fauser, Annegret. Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print. More importantly was the impact that the music during the 1940’s had on the people then and the effect that it continues to have now. Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II argues that music composed during the 1940’s was unlike any other time of music because of its emphasis on making the listener feel like they are part of the war or if they are somewhere else. [3] Fauser, Annegret. Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print. It adds that songs from World War II continue to be used today in order to remember those harsh times of war and to remind everyone of what the cost of liberty and freedom was. [3] Fauser, Annegret. Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print. Some examples of this would include Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (1942) and “Lincoln’s Portrait” (1942). These are still being played for presidential inaugurations and continue to have the effect of “loss for freedom”.

Although music was made popular because of the widely distributed radio, the number of concerts skyrocketed along with the incorporation of women and African American musicians into military bands and groups. Whether women were incorporated because of sexual attraction or actual acceptance by the institutions is still not very clear, what is clear is that groups were now mixed sexes and some even mixed races in an era of sexism and racism. This goes to show that the role of music not only had effects in the international sphere, but in the domestic as well. [3] Fauser, Annegret. Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print.

Japanese songs[edit]

  • Nikudan san'yūshi (肉弾三勇士 The Three Brave Human Bullets?)
  • Aikoku kōshinkyoku (愛國行進曲 Patriotism March?)
  • Hawaii kaisen (ハワイ海戰 Hawaii Naval Battle?)
  • Taiheiyō kōshinkyoku (太平洋行進曲 Pacific Ocean March?)
  • Hinomaru kōshinkyoku (日の丸行進曲 Hinomaru March?)
  • Roei no uta (露營の歌 Song of the Bivouac?)
  • Shingun-swingu (進軍スウィング Marching-Swing?)
  • Aiba shingunka (愛馬進軍歌 Favorite Horse's Marching Song)?)
  • Aikoku no hana (愛國の花 Flower of Patriotism?)
  • Kōgun banzai (皇軍万歳 Long Live the Imperial Army?) (A jazz song despite its title. Performed by Tadaharu Nakano and the Nakano Columbia Rhythm Boys.)
  • Moshi, moshi, kame-yo (もしもし龜よ Hello, Hello, Turtle!?)
  • Manshū-gurashi (満洲ぐらし Joyous Life in Manchukuo?)
  • Wakare no burūsu (別れのブルース Farewell Blues?)
  • Ajia burūsu (亞細亞ブルース Asia Blues?)
  • Shanhai burūsu (上海ブルース Shanghai Blues?)
  • Manshū musume (満洲娘 Manchurian Girl?)
  • Umi yukaba (海行かば If I Go to the Sea?)
  • Asa ( Dawn?)
  • Tonarigumi (隣組 Neighborhood Association?)
  • Nan'yō kōro (南洋航路 South Sea Route?)
  • Parao koishi-ya (パラオ戀しや Beloved missing Palau?)
  • Ume no burūsu (雨のブルース Rainy Blues?)
  • Soshū yakyoku (蘇州夜曲 Suzhou Nocturne?)
  • Chaina Tango (チャイナ・タンゴ China Tango?)
  • Shina no yoru (支那の夜 China Nights?)
  • Gunkoku komori-uta (軍國子守唄 Lullaby of a War-time Country?)
  • Nyan-nyan matsuri (娘々祭 「満洲から北支へ」?)
  • Kigen' nisenrop'yaku-nen (紀元二千六百年 Year 2,600 (of Japan's Foundation)?)
  • Shussei heishi o okuru uta (出征兵士を送る歌 Song for Sending Off the Soldiers to the Front?)
  • Manira no machikado-de (マニラの街角で On the Street Corners of Manila?)
  • Batabiya no yoru wa fukete (バタビヤの夜は更けて Midnight(Late at Night) in Batavia?)
  • Ashita wa otochi-ka (明日はお立ちか When You Depart Tomorrow?)

Music in the Democratic Allies[edit]

What is remarkable about the efforts in the UK and the USA during World War II is the degree to which the desires of most people were in line with that of the leaders. This meant the American and British government could count on popular music reflecting much of the same war aims that the government wanted. The people of America wanted a quick final victory over the Axis without compromise and the songs about a world after the war at peace with the boys coming home not only meet the personal desires of people but also reflected the goals of US government. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had always been motivated for a quick end to the war.

This unity of private and state desire likely gave the UK and the USA a degree of energy that allowed the nations to accomplish a great deal more at less human cost than the other major powers in the war. The mass suffering at the hands of the governments was not necessary as it was in Germany.

British popular music and the BBC[edit]

Before the war, BBC radio had had quite an elitist approach to popular music. Jazz, swing or big band music for dancing was relegated to a few late night spots. During the war, the BBC was obliged to adapt, if only because British soldiers were listening to German radio stations to hear their dance music favourites.

This adaptation was not without conflict. The BBC establishment reluctantly increased the amount of dance music played, but censorship was severe. The American hit "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" for example was censored because of its almost blasphemous mix of religious words and a foxtrot melody. BBC heads were also worried about American-style crooners undermining the virility of British men.

The BBC establishment tried hard to stick to the jaunty tone which they felt had helped to win the first world war - so George Formby and Gracie Fields were very much played on the radio. Indeed, these two stars were undoubtedly more heroes to working-class people in Britain than was Winston Churchill, since they were seen to "come from the ordinary people."

The United States did not need a forward Propaganda Minister; they could count on big bands producing music that reflected the governments primary interest because they were the interests of the population.

Britain did have a mass media which played popular music, much enjoyed by the Germans stationed in France and the Low Countries or flying over Britain. The most famous single performer was Vera Lynn who became known as "the forces' sweetheart".

Popular concert songs in Britain during the war included:

This is perhaps the most famous war time song with the lines:
We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Vera Lynn's recording was memorably played during an apocalyptic scene in Dr. Strangelove; the Byrds covered it (to similarly ironic effect) on their first album.

The theme tune of the TV series Dad's Army, “Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler?” does not date from the war, although it was intended as a gentle pastiche of wartime songs. With lyrics by Jimmy Perry and music by Perry and Derek Taverner, it was sung by one of Perry's childhood idols, wartime entertainer Bud Flanagan who died in 1968, soon after the first episode played.

Russian songs[edit]

German songs[edit]

The Nazi government took a strong interest in promoting Germanic culture and music, which returned people to the folk culture of their remote ancestors, while promoting the distribution of radio to transmit propaganda. The Nazi government had an obsession with controlling culture and promoting the culture it controlled. For this reason the common people's tastes in music were much more secret. Many Germans used their new radios to listen to the jazz music hated by Hitler but loved all over the world.

In art, this attack came after expressionism, impressionism, and all forms of modernism. Forms of music targeted included jazz as well as the music of many of the more dissonant modern classical composers, including that of Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, and Arnold Schoenberg. Hindemith was one of many composers who fled the Third Reich as a result of musical persecution (as well as racial persecution, since Hindemith's wife was part Jewish). Modern composers who took a more conventional approach to music, however, were welcomed by the Third Reich; Carl Orff and Richard Strauss, for example, were able to stay in the country during the Nazi period.

Also a subtle factor of history makes gaining a reliable picture of the music of Germany more difficult than among the Allies. World War II in the English speaking world is usually remembered as a great triumph and the music is often performed with a sense of pride. Therefore, over time the collective consciousness of this period's music has become stronger. In Germany, World War II is generally seen as a shameful period; it would be difficult to imagine a band playing 'all the old favorites' of World War II in a public place.

Popular music is tied with nostalgia and collective memory. Though a historian can find samples of music that was played in radio or collect soldiers' songs from a period, ranking the subjective meaning and value assigned to a song by the people of that period will be greatly impacted by those subjects' later opinion of that music.

For example, it is known that many Germans enjoyed American jazz music, it is also known that Germans sang songs in Nazi sponsored events; but it would be difficult to determine the relative popularity of this music in the current context of shame concerning the war.

Therefore the best that can be understood about German Music during the war is the official Nazi government policy, the level of enforcement, and some notion of the diversity of other music listened to, but as the losers in the war German Music and Nazi songs from World War II has not been assigned the high heroic status of American and British popular music, although as the music itself goes, it is considered by many as being above the level of the latter, which is also true of Fascist Italian music of the time.

Approved Germanic music[edit]

The Nazi were determined to the concept that German Culture was the greatest in history, but as with all parts of art Hitler took an interest in suppressing the work of all those considered unfit while promoting certain composers as proper Germans. Therefore, the Government officially acknowledged certain composers as true Germans, including:

Unapproved Germanic music[edit]

The Nazis felt a need to identify all art that was somehow degenerate or Entartete though degenerate is probably a poor translation of the use the Nazis made of this sign, for to them it included all things Jewish, Communist, along with mental illness, gay and lesbian behavior, transgender, and expressionist and modernist.

Along with exhibitions of Degenerate Art Entartete Kunst the Nazi government identified certain music, composers and performers as Entartete Musik, these included:

In 1938 Nazi Germany passed an official law on Jazz music. Not surprisingly it deals with the racial nature of the music and makes law based on racial theories. Jazz was “Negroid”; It posed a threat to European higher culture, and was therefore forbidden except in the case of scientific study.

Popular music permitted under the Nazis[edit]

Degrees of censorship varied, and the Germans were likely more concerned with the war than styles of music. But as the war went poorly the objectives of the government moved from building a perfect German state to keeping the population in line, and the relative importance of morale-raising songs would have increased.

Popular songs were officially encouraged during the war including:

  • Berlin bleibt doch Berlin (Berlin is still Berlin) this was a popular with Joseph Goebbels near the fall of Berlin.

A strange note is that Goebbels commissioned a swing band called "Charlie and His Orchestra" which seemed to have existed for propaganda purposes

Polish songs of World War II[edit]

There were specific songs of Polish resistance, Polish Armed Forces in the West and Polish Armed Forces in the East. Notable ones included Siekiera, motyka, the most popular song in occupied Poland; Rozszumiały się wierzby płaczące - the most popular song of the Polish partisans; Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino - the most popular song of the Polish Armed Forces in the West; and Oka, the most popular song of the Polish Armed Forces in the East.

Propaganda Against the Enemy[edit]

They played a few American records first. I don't remember everything she said. She said, "Your wives and girlfriends are probably home in a nice warm building, dancing with some other men. You're over here in the cold." It was cold and it was snowing. Dent Wheeler on Axis Sally during the battle of the Bulge [4]

"There is no 'Tokyo Rose'; the name is strictly a GI invention. The name has been applied to at least two lilting Japanese voices on the Japanese radio. ... Government monitors listening in 24 hours a day have never heard the words 'Tokyo Rose' over a Japanese-controlled Far Eastern radio." [5]

During World War II often cut off troops or isolated outposts found themselves exposed in the radio range of the enemy, which used popular music as a means to attract listeners and then provide propaganda messages.

This type of propaganda was performed by both sides and is some of the earliest mass psych-ops. Often the propagandist became popular with the other sides, and there is little evidence that these had any impact, except that the Axis participants were often detained and if originally from allied countries prosecuted, while Allied broadcasters were seen as legitimate. Again it shows the way music is understood in the context of World War II is from the winners point of view, whereas Tokyo Rose (Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino) and Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars) faced years of persecution after the war. England executed Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) for treason, in 1946. Again there can really be little in the way of an objective history of music in World War II. The historical context since the war, the revelations of the evils of the Axis regimes, and the ultimate victory of the consumer society foretold in the songs of the allies impose a context upon the events like viewing a star through the lens of a telescope.

Songs, compositions and others written after the war[edit]

See also[edit]

Music and political warfare

Interpretive communities

References[edit]

  1. ^ "How America adopted radio: demographic differences in set ownership reported in the 1930-1950 U.S. censuses" by Steve Craig June 2004.
  2. ^ http://www.historyonthenet.com
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference undefined was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  4. ^ Excerpt from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, edited by Robert Van Houten. Paducah, Kentucky: Turner Publishing Co., 1991. (ISBN 1-56311-013-X)
  5. ^ :::: (The U.S. Office of War Information, August 1945
  • "The Songs that Fought the War: Popular Muic and the Home Front, 1939-1945" By John Bush Jones
  • "God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War" By Kathleen E.R. Smith
  • Aden, R. C., Rahoi, R. L., Beck, C. S. (1995) "'Dreams Are Born on Places Like This': The Process of Interpretive Community Formation at the Field of Dreams Site'" Communication Quarterly (Vol. 43). (Pg 368-380)

External links[edit]