America Goes to War, 1917: Sheet Music from World War I presents 30 examples of sheet music from the World War I years, 1917-1919. These are from the personal collection of Sam Walker, UNO Professor Emeritus, who has 150 different sheet music from the war years.
This exhibit marks the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into the European War. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war. His speech is famous for his promise that this would be a war “to make the world safe for democracy.” Congress declared war on April 6th.
Wilson’s promise proved to be cruel joke, as the war had already brought senseless bloodshed in Europe and the Versailles Treaty, in the judgment of most historians, contributed directly to the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1933 and World War II in 1939. In the U.S., meanwhile, the Wilson administration perpetrated the worst systematic suppression of freedom of speech, press, and assembly in all of American history. The demand for total loyalty unleashed a torrent of hatred of dissenters, suspected draft evaders, German-Americans, and immigrants. The repression prompted the organization of the National Civil Liberties Bureau to defend freedom of speech and press. The NCLB developed into the ACLU in early 1920.
The Sheet Music
The sheet music displayed in this exhibit is fascinating because of the quality of the art work and the variety of themes: patriotism, demands for loyalty, the sacrifice of parents, trench warfare, new girl friends in France, the humor of war, the tragedy of death, and coming home at war’s end. In both respects, they are far more interesting as works of art than, for example, the World War II sheet music. The American World War I posters are vastly more interesting as art works than the posters from England, France and Germany.
The sheet music in Case #1 illustrate the spirit of patriotism surrounding the war effort (“America Today”). Some, however, illustrate the demands for complete loyalty and suspicion of those who did not display sufficient loyalty (“What Kind of American Are You?”).
Case #2 contains sheet music illustrating the themes of going to war (“Over There”), trench warfare (“Over the Top”), hatred of Germany (“Goodbye Germany”), and support services (“My Red Cross Girlie”).
The sheet music in Case #3, illustrates the humorous aspects of the war (“How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm”), the new girl friends in France (“Oo-La-La”), the fact that the military was racially segregated (“Old Black Joe”), the tragedy of death in combat (“He Sleeps Beneath the Soil of France”), and finally, the end of the war (“Homeward Bound”).
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