Music and World War II May 15 2012, 0 Comments

Contributed by: Jack Kopstein Studies have concluded that WWII affected music. Before the war, swing and vocal groups were the most popular forms of American music. Thousands of dance bands performed in ballrooms and theaters around the country. The biggest names were Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and the most popular leader of all, Glenn Miller. People paid a small entrance fee - 50 cents or so - and could dance for hours to one of the bands. The music was generally very romantic or upbeat and "swingin'". They also listened to groups such as the Andrews Sisters and the Mills Brothers, and solo vocalists such as Bing Crosby. When the U.S. entered the war, there was an initial flurry of tunes written to fuel patriotic feelings, such as "Keep 'em Flying" and "Any Bonds Today?" (Urging people to buy War Bonds). But as the war dragged on and more and more people entered the service, songs became more reflective, even sad. There were titles such as "I'll Walk Alone" (about a woman whose boyfriend was sent overseas), "I'll Be Home for Christmas (But Only in My Dreams)". War demands also had multiple effects on both the musicians and the public's listening habits. Most of the performers were young men so they were prime draft material. Orchestras struggled to maintain quality while in some cases 30% to 50% of the musicians were drafted in the course of a few weeks. Some professional bands actually ended up hiring high school musicians because they couldn't be drafted. It became more and more difficult to travel because of gasoline rationing and the diversion of train and bus service to carry soldiers. Civilians were often working extra hours to make up for manpower shortages and didn't have as much leisure time to go out. Moreover it was pretty tough for a woman to go out alone, especially if her boyfriend or fiancé was fighting in the Pacific. Also several of the major leaders such as Shaw, Miller, Larry Clinton, and others, decided to break up their orchestras and enlist in the Service themselves. That meant their bands no longer existed and the performances they did make were almost exclusively for soldiers. In the middle of all this James Petrillo, the head of the Musicians' Union, called a strike in order to try to get more money for his members. Almost all instrumental musicians stopped recording from July of 1942 to late 1944, further reducing the amount of new popular music available to the public. The only performers who were allowed to continue recording were the vocalists, so they began to have more and more listeners than the dance bands. What to many music historians was the final blow came on the afternoon of Friday, December 15, 1944. Major Glenn Miller, still by most counts the most popular musician in the U.S., boarded a small plane that was to take him to Paris to prepare for a Christmas concert. The plane was never seen again. The best analogue for more contemporary listeners would be if the Beatles' had been killed in an accident in say, 1966 or '67. When the war was over, musicians returned to find that tastes had changed and the vocal groups were now more popular. Petrillo's strike succeeded in raising salaries but large dance bands were now so expensive that fewer ballrooms could host them and fewer people could pay to attend. Also, millions of people were occupied with trying to resume jobs and start families, trying to make up for four years of time given to the war effort. And without making too much of it, Glenn Miller's disappearance removed the person who probably had the best chance of keeping some form of jazz or swing in prominence. By 1947 most of the large bands had broken up, singers ruled the airwaves, and only small instrumental groups of three or four musicians continued to perform jazz. It only took a few more years for people like Bill Haley and Elvis Presley to take popular music to its next stage. Despite many music educators resistance to change, schools began to develop what were initially called stage bands and then morphed into jazz groups. The Colleges and High Schools in North America became involved in jazz festivals and reintroduced to young people the spirit and memory of the jazz greats of the past. Altissimo are pleased to present  stirring albums of great music from WWII including: Songs That Got Us Through World War II