At the beginning of World War II, young Americans relied both on patriotically-fueled hope and personal, often religious, faith to keep spirits high. American culture at that time was filled with stories and songs evoking patriotism and nationalism. During the
war, boosting morale was just as important for Americans at home as it was for soldiers on the battlefields of Europe. The United States’ morale-raising efforts included tracts, songbooks, sheet music and recordings of patriotic songs by popular singers, to name a few. “Songs For America”, a songbook published in 1941, offered a considerable array of songs that portrayed America’s greatness in terms both of nationalism and cultural diversity. This songbook intended to kindle patriotism high during wartime to help the American people remain positive during the tough times to come. “Songs For America” includes a wide variety of songs that gives an insight into attitudes and occurrences on the home front at the time the book was published.
The publisher of “Songs For America”, Robbins Music Corporation in New York, selected a variety of songs from their own archives, past and contemporary, composed by a wide variety of people of different styles. It was created to portray the greatness of America through patriotic songs while portraying various American folk traditions. These books were intended for “schools, assemblies, music groups, homes, and social groups” as the publisher described inside the front cover. This dedication was critical to include because it, along with the other mass-produced books published by the same company, was meant for mass sale and intended for various crowds. While “Songs for America” was meant for mass sale, we believe this one in particular is a personal copy because of the notes and small annotations throughout it. Seeming to be in good condition, the book appears to have been preserved well as it survived over the years. It totaled up to contain 103 pages within, discounting the page that had been ripped out at the very beginning. Each page was wrinkled from apparent water damage, showing the wear and tear it had experienced over the years.
Printed on the inside front cover was a collection of ads for songbooks that were also published by Robbins Music Corporation. This once again showed how the publishing company was typically in mass production. The most simplistic versions of the hymns appear in the book because it allowed those who lacked a strong musical background to still be able to participate and enjoy, ultimately explaining why the book was aimed at young school children and “the living room pianist.” Having a younger target audience helped to spread support of the war because these children and adolescents tended to be less educated about world problems, furthermore helping young Americans gain a strong sense of nationalism during World War II.
Patriotism Through Music
Throughout “Songs for America,” the songs were placed throughout so that the readers would have no trouble seeing its ultimate message – patriotism. It is no secret today that “The Star Spangled Banner” is an overwhelming symbol of support and patriotism for America, which is why it was printed on the second page of the book. The song contains four verses, but only three are included in “Songs for America.” The editor of the book ensured that the first and final verses would be included because of their sheer popularity and meaning. The first and most well-known verse automatically sprouts feelings of support for the country right off the bat. It uses words like “perilous fight” and “bombs bursting in air” to signify the war against the British and how America ultimately won. This is important to include within a songbook aimed at creating support for World War II because it allows the reader to think back to a similar time of war and how it ended positively for the Americans. Furthermore, the theme of the last verse is that of pride and patriotism, more so lyrically than any of the other verses. It is dense with words such as “freeman,” “home,” “blest,” and “victory,” signifying America’s triumph. In the final words of the song, Francis Scott Key includes the phrase “in God is our trust,” which ultimately led to America’s motto “in God we trust.” This combined aspects of religion and patriotism into one phrase, and reflected how Francis Scott Key thought that God sided with America. Overall, “The Star Spangled Banner” radiated support and positivity for America in the hopes of altering the minds of the public to support the war at hand.
Another song that appeared to be strongly influential in the aspect of war support was “An American Hymn” which was composed by Matthias Keller shortly after the Civil War had ended. At the time, the federal government offered a prize to whoever could create the best original hymn for America. Although Keller’s hymn was received poorly at first, changes were made to it to where it was so prominent that is was featured at the Peace Jubilee where 50,000 people gathered to listen. We believe that this song was added into the compilation of “Songs for America” because it is a guiding principle for how Americans would like their country to be. Thus, after World War II was in action, Americans needed that “light at the end of the tunnel” to move forward from the anguish of war and focus on keeping America great.
On a different note, “The American’s Creed” is not as much of a song as it is a pledge.
Written by William Tyler Page, these chauvinistic words were included in “Songs for America” for patriotic reasons as it reminded the readers of America’s ultimate vision. It is the first piece included in this songbook because Robbins Music Corporation wanted to set a dramatic yet nationalistic tone for the rest of the book. One of the lines in “The American’s Creed” reads “I therefore believe it is my duty to my Country to love it; to support its constitution; to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.” The entire statement beams support and raw patriotism for America, especially through its strong call to arms in the last line. Uncle Sam needed to create a sense of positive morale for the war, and reminding the people of how great their country is did just that. Furthermore, hidden within is a subtle message about religious values being tied to the war effort. The creators of the creed wanted to make the United States seem like it can be bound to both spiritual and patriotic values, which is why the words seem to worship how great our nation is while also creating high patriotic emotions in young Americans. Songs and pieces like “The American’s Creed” were not only helpful, but also necessary during wartime.
The Music Industry During the 1940s
A nation that wants to create patriotism and nationalism during wartime had to produce a lot of records and songbooks. This desire to spread awareness and keep morale high during wartime not only helped the soldiers and their families, but also helped the music industry. The music industry, during this time, was booming. Not only had record sales soared during the years of WWII, but also patriotic music sales as well. In 1940, sales of records (number purchased) totaled to be $80 million, and by 1946, this number would jump up to $275 million, a $195 million increase (Young 86). This increase in sales was mainly due to the war, and this period marked the turning point for the music industry. Postwar era would ensue after the war, which also generated revenue and sales for the music industry. The war created market stimulation at the home front, and the music industry experienced this first hand at the time.
In order to create these great Patriotic songs that kept the music industry booming, a certain “recipe” had to be followed. Everyone was searching for that Great American War song. These songs had to follow certain guidelines including focusing on the enemy but “not [minimizing] their abilities” because this could create a sense of false strength for Americans. There was high encouragement of songs that complimented unity: “common action, common love of freedom, common consideration and esteem of one group of people for another”, and having the perfect title was important to get people’s attention as well (Smith 62). Songwriters had to follow these guidelines to get the best reaction out of listeners and to make it big in the industry.
Frey, Hugo, ed. Songs for America. New York: Robbins Music Corporation, 1941.
“Keller’s American Hymn.” Hymnary.org. Harry Plantinga, 2007. Web. 26 Mar. 2017
Smith, Kathleen E. R. God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War. Lexington, USA: UP of Kentucky, 2003. Print.
Young, William H., and Nancy K. Young. Music of the World War II Era. Westport CT: Grennwood, 2008. Print.
Bailey Slusher, McKenzie Kellar, and Matt Marin