War Music About Hope and Home

Music plays an important role in The Secret of Their Midnight Tears and indeed, perhaps no other type of music is associated with a particular era more than swing is with World War II.

The swing era, which had its roots in the music of the 1920s, actually began on a rather specific date—August 21, 1935—when Benny Goodman began his highly successful run in Los Angeles at the Palomar Dance Club, when his “hot swing” brand of music was wildly embraced by West Coast youngsters. The era continued until 1946 when changing musical tastes, and the fact that the thousands of young Lindy hoppers and jitterbuggers were now married adults beginning families, brought it to a close. (The era closed, but the music continues!) Wikipedia has a rather thorough article on the history of swing that is worth your time if you desire a deeper look. Here’s an excellent website with a page regarding the various genres of music during the war, including song samples.

What strikes me about the era are those pieces such as “I’ll Be Seeing You” which combine a longing for reunion with the very realistic attitude that it might not happen. Written in 1938, Bing Crosby took “I’ll Be Seeing You” to #1 on the Billboard charts during the first week of July, 1944. That same week, telegrams began arriving at homes throughout the United States announcing the casualties from D-Day. I cannot imagine a greater sadness than hearing this song and after receiving a telegram from the War Department announcing that one of the casualties is someone you loved.

The American military knew how important the music from home was to the servicemen overseas and worked very hard to provide it to them. Assembling the biggest stars, singers, and bands, the military produced “V-discs,” (V for Victory) which were records with songs and greetings that were sent all over the world including the front lines. Another important military musical production was Command Performance which, as the name implies, was programmed by the G.I.s. There might be a request to hear bullfrogs on the old mill pond or church bells or a “sigh from Carol Landis,” for example. Recording and movie stars lined up to appear on these programs which were beamed over Armed Forces Radio Network and later, placed on transcription discs. The shows were not generally broadcast to the folks at home.

The video below is a segment from a November 1943 Command Performance featuring Betty Hutton singing “Murder, He Says,” a funny, bouncy tune that satirizes the slang of the day. (You’ll hear MC Bob Hope announce some of the servicemen’s names who requested this performance at the beginning of the video below.) The entire episode is sometimes seen on TCM and it, along with other Command Performance shows and clips are also on Youtube. Despite Miss Hutton’s lively performance and the fun nature of the song, I can’t help but become a bit emotional watching it. Indeed, I watch Betty Hutton and sense that she knew that she was doing much more than singing a song; I think she knew that she was sending a piece of home and a dose of hope to men and women who were far from the former and running low on the latter.

Yes, indeed, music was very important to the people who fought World War II.


About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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