Right up through Vietnam and beyond, war and music have been inseparable. In ancient times Greek soldiers sang to flutes and trumpets as they marched to war; more recently brave Scots followed their bagpipers into battle, while during the Korean War Chinese troops preceded human wave attacks with a chorus of war trumpets. And of course, at least since the Civil War, the military day has closed to the sound of Taps.
With the dawn of radio in the ‘20s, music became accessible to the multitudes. When America went to war in the ‘40s, radio music accompanied the troops. Armed Forces Radio Services (AFRS) and other shortwave broadcasts overseas brought a little bit of home to men fighting in the far corners of the world. In early ‘45, Time ran a piece on “GI Jill,” the armed forces’ response to Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally, whose broadcasts from Tokyo and Berlin aimed to demoralize US troops and make them homesick. GI Jill’s combination of music and breezy chatter was intended to make them feel at home.
GI Jill was Martha Wilkerson, who recorded her show, ‘GI Jive’ for AFRS six days a week in Los Angeles. The transcripts were flown out to far-flung posts and “tenderly passed from one mosquito network to the next.” Time proudly boasted that “From Kodiak [AK] to Canberra… [Jill] is a top GI favorite.”
One of the most popular WWII songs for both Allied and Axis troops was Lili Marlene, a 1915 war poem set to music in 1938. It was a sweetly nostalgic song, laden with innuendo, that produced a guilty pleasure in many of the Allied troops. Marlene Dietrich, one of the many stars who entertained US troops, sang it throughout the European and African theaters in her smoky, louche contralto during the war. †
In 1944, the Andrews Sisters hit, The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, topped the charts. Written in ‘41 at the outset of the peacetime draft to expand the military, this iconic tune has remained incredibly popular to the present day, so popular that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has ranked it #6 of 365 songs on its ‘Songs of the Century’. †
It starts with the bugler blowin' reveille over your bed when you arrive
Jack, that's the G.I. Jive
The Germans published lists of banned music and performers, not only Jewish artists’ works, but also works by anyone whose art was at odds with the Nazi party worldview. However, for propaganda purposes the Nazi propaganda minister formed a band, ‘Charlie and His Orchestra’, which played “degenerate” swing and jazz on shortwave radio on a regular schedule. These broadcasts were directed specifically at the home fronts in the US and Great Britain. Typically, the songs would begin as written, but a few lines later, the lyrics would change, describing, for example, how poorly the war was going for the Allies, emphasizing their losses, and predicting that they’d soon be defeated. †
And we know for certain that some lovely day, someone will set the spark off... and we will all be blown away.
Watch brinkally and huntally,
The cities we have lost.
No need for you to miss a minute
Of the agonizing holocaust.
Bob Dylan's debut album, March 1962
In the background that same year, Bob Dylan gave the first public performance of Blowin’ in the Wind in New York’s Greenwich Village. † The song spoke of war, peace, and freedom. The gates of anti-Vietnam War protest would soon open wide.
To be continued at a later date …
† Links to music videos:
Lili Marlene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLU8ybLaI2k (English); http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jrfluDC9AA&feature=related (German)