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SONGS OF THE PATRIOT TO OPEN

Jon Long

THE CITADELLE ART FOUNDATION EXPLORES THE SENTIMENTS OF A WARTIME NATION EXPRESSED THROUGH MUSIC AND GRAPHICS IN SONGS OF THE PATRIOT, AN EXHIBITION OF WORLD WAR I  & WORLD WAR II SHEET MUSIC. 

CANADIAN, Texas—August 11, 2014–The Citadelle Art Foundation will present a varied and colorful collection of World War I & World War II era sheet music covers from August 21 – November 23, 2014. 

Songs of the Patriot revisits the American wartime fronts at home and abroad during World War I & II through the cover art and lyrics of popular sheet music from 1914 to 1919 and 1940 to 1945, respectively. The exhibit explores how music publishers, songwriters and cover artists expressed a range of American wartime feelings- from anti-war statements to supporting troops overseas. It also explores the booming sheet music industry, printing and chromolithography, and the significance of piano playing as an early form of home entertainment. 

The Politics of Music

Wartime songs captured snapshots of various American attitudes. Themes ranged from pacifism and neutrality at the beginning of the wars, to the hope of loved ones returning home safely. In addition to the lyrical messages, sheet music covers were the perfect medium for visually interpreting these songs that at times could be serious, sentimental or even comical. Uncle Sam selling bonds, marching soldiers and mothers saying goodbye were among countless images. 

Whether driven by personal feelings or meeting the demand of the huge music-buying public, WWI composers and artists were part of a thriving business in which great sums of money were being earned by the music publishing industry.  New York City’s “Tin Pan Alley” emerged as a major music-publishing center during this period. It is estimated that over 7,000 songs were published during World War I, more than what was produced during the Spanish-American War and World War II combined. Composer George Cohan was paid $25,000 in 1917 for his famous patriotic march “Over There,” the highest price ever paid for a song at that time. 

During the early years of the First World War, the United States held a position of neutrality seeing the conflict as purely a European war on foreign soil. President Woodrow Wilson stressed the importance of peace to the American people and the need to remain in the role of an impartial mediator. This was difficult for some Americans with ties to Europe and new immigrants who felt conflicting loyalties. They wanted to fight for the people suffering in their ancestral homelands yet also support the peaceful position of their new homeland. 

In 1916 President Wilson was re-elected on his neutrality platform but after an accumulation of events, including German submarines torpedoing American ships in 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. This created an immediate need to overcome the percentage of the population that was still against involvement in the war.

In less than a week of the declaration, the government quickly established the Committee on Public Information. Its sole purpose was to change public opinion to favor involvement in the war. It utilized the talents of artists, the Hollywood film industry and government composers known as “Army Song Leaders,” who wrote wartime music. A barrage of songs, pamphlets, posters and films that vilified Germany was the result of the CPI’s massive campaign.

The CPI also supplied songbooks to theaters and music halls to encourage audiences to sing together in the name of patriotism and to lift morale. The popularity of music and piano playing in the home made music an effective medium to help gain wartime support in both manpower and funds.

As a back cover of sheet music proclaims, “Music will help win the war! A nation that sings can never be beaten...” These kinds of messages were able to spread from home to home through the united voices of a nation.

After the widespread success of songs during World War I, such as “Over There” and “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary,” the U.S. government had recognized the power of music during wartime. Historically, the role of music often took on greater importance during trying times because of its ability to reach all levels of American society. In the spirit of patriotic propaganda, the government used images and songs to steer the nation’s collective mind to boost morale and garner support for the war.

Unique to World War II, the government commissioned and published songs and even officially sponsored song writing contests. In 1942 the War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations published a pamphlet titled “Music in the National Effort” providing suggestions for communities to use music to keep spirits high for citizens and departing soldiers. Music was the perfect medium for propaganda, which had become a refined tool by World War II. Knowing this, President Franklin Roosevelt called upon the entertainment industry and its celebrities to help rouse patriotism and mobilize the American people. 

Fighting for Victory at Home

Home front efforts were to play an important role in victory. Citizens were called upon to conserve resources, to take on factory jobs producing goods for the military and to help pay for the war.

The Treasury Department used songs and sheet music covers in its campaign to promote the buying of war bonds and stamps. Lyrics urged Americans to, “Scrape up the most you can…buy a share of freedom today.” “Everyone can help to win the war… Let’s begin investing in the things our country’s fighting for.”

Covers often had small Treasury logos encouraging Americans to “Buy War Bonds and Stamps for Victory.” A “V” for victory symbol and “Minuteman at Concord” figure were typical. Even the back covers of sheet music were used to spread messages, “For Victory, Buy United States War Bonds.” By the end of these campaign drives, 8 out of 13 Americans had invested in bonds totaling over $185 billion dollars

As a World War II song proclaims, “Millions of voices are ringing, singing as we march along. We did it before and we can do it again.” These kinds of messages were able to spread from home to home through the united voices of a nation.