World War II Songs from the Belfer Audio Archive


The Era and the Music

World War II America (1941-1945) produced a significant number of popular songs ranging from the patriotic to the sentimental. This was the era of Big Bands and Swing Music. Americans on the Homefront or overseas closer to the war zones, gathered to listen and dance to popular bands led by Glenn Miller, Harry James, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and countless others. Vocalists such as Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Dick Haymes, the Andrews Sisters, Jo Stafford, the Mills Brothers, Peggy Lee, and Helen O'Connell sang the lyrics that helped Americans get through the war years. New musical forms such as the Boogie Woogie became extremely popular during these years. Country and Western tunes received increasing airplay on the radio and Latin-inspired rhythms were provided by Xavier Cugat and Carmen Miranda, "the Lady in the tutti-frutti hat." By the outbreak of World War II, radio and phonograph records had evolved into a mature commercial juke box culture.

Popular songs during World War II fall into a variety of categories. There were patriotic tunes such as Remember Pearl Harbor and Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. Morale boosters represented by Johnny Mercer's Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive helped lift wartime spirits. Many songs such as Bell-Bottom Trousers, A Boy in Khaki-a Girl in Lace , and  First Class Private Mary Brown told the stories of soldiers, sailors, and their sweethearts. The themes of love and wartime parting and separation appeared in numerous examples: As Time Goes By, I'll Walk Alone, I'll Be Seeing You, and I Don't Want to Walk without You. As the war approached its end, there were songs about homecoming and the dreams of reunion: My Guy's ComeBack, It's Been a Long Long Time, and My Dreams are Getting Better All the Time. If sweethearts predominated as a subject, mothers ran a close second: Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama), Dear Mom, and Ma ! I Miss Your Apple Pie.

Topical songs were popular during the war. For example, the entry of increasing numbers of women into the American workforce resulted in examples such as Rosie the Riveter and Milkman Keep those Bottles Quiet. In the latter song, vocalist Ella Mae Morse elaborated on the sleeping difficulties of women working on the swing shift in America's defense plants. Perhaps, in an attempt to relieve tension and evoke a smile, novelty and humorous songs such as Mairzy Doats and Leave the Dishes in the Sink, Ma also appeared and achieved commercial success.

Fine Arts 400: American Culture of the World War II Era

During the Spring 2001 semester I offered a course for the Syracuse University Fine Arts Department on American popular culture of the World War II years. Music was an important component of the course. Students in the class purchased a 2CD anthology of World War II songs along with their textbooks and heard additional musical examples in lectures given throughout the semester.

As a midterm project each student was required to select a lesser known American World War II song and write an analysis of it in the broader context of the period being studied. Song selection was carried out as follows: Students were given lists of World War II songs from a database published on the World Wide Web by the Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York.

The scope and contents of the Sibley Collection are described below:

"The collection contains over 500 items of popular sheet music all published during the years of World War II. In theme all relate specifically to the war or are of a general patriotic nature. The collection thus represents a very detailed overview of patriotic music during the second World War. The material bears upon the subjects of American popular music and society. It also possesses value for the study of history of the period."

Each of the twenty-two students checked a page from the Sibley collection database against the holdings of 1940s 78 rpm recordings in the Belfer Audio Archive located at Syracuse University. Twenty of the students identified songs they wanted to use for analysis from the Sibley lists. Two additional songs (not listed in the Sibley collection) were also located in the Belfer Audio Archive. Individual cassettes were made of each song and distributed to the students for their analysis.  What follows are brief clips from each of these songs and some of the comments made by the students. It is my hope that this site will spark the interest of others to examine the history and culture of World War II popular music and to suggest the richness of the Belfer Collections for faculty, students, and other researchers interested in exploring the primary sources of our musical heritage and history.

The Songs

Image Description
America Calling America Calling (1942)
Composed by: Meredith Willson
Performed by: Fred Waring & his Pennsylvanians
Label: Decca 18485-B (1942)

"America Calling exhibits many of the typical American values found in WWII songs, two of which are the indominatable American spirit and a statement of American beliefs and inspirations. This song, like many others, boosted the morale of the country and encouraged many men to enlist in the armed services. The song reminds Americans just what they are fighting for." Megan Baronitis

Angels of Mercy Angels of Mercy (1941)
Composed by: Irving Berlin
Performed by: Glenn Miller & his Orchestra
Label: Bluebird B-11429-B (1941)

"Angels of Mercy is a typical song from the early period of the war, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The song was written for and dedicated to the American Red Cross nurses, probably to increase their sense of patriotism and even to boost their morale a little as they were sent to help wounded victims overseas...The song conjures up visuals of women marching off into the billowing smoke to help those in need...The nurses are portrayed as angels of mercy, those who give it their all in the midst of blue and gray skies that are dark as night."  Liat Weichselbaum

Back Home for Keeps

Back Home for Keeps (1945)
Composed by: Carmen Lombardo
Performed by: Guy Lombardo & his Royal Canadians
Label: Decca 18672-B (1945)

"The song concerns a wife or sweetheart who longs for the day when her man will be back home with her. The mood of the song is sentimental. The woman thinking of the future when her loved one will sweetly kiss the angry years away and they can revel in the old familiar things. The melody is sweet and smooth. The style and content work very well together because you feel as though she is daydreaming and we are hearing the thoughts that she is thinking." Eleanor Thoet

Cleanin My Rifle

Cleanin' My Rifle (And Dreamin' of You) (1943)
Composed by: Allie Wrubel
Performed by: Lawrence Welk & his Orchestra
Label: Decca 4428-A (1943)

"Cleanin' My Rifle is about a soldier who dreams of his sweetheart's kiss while cleaning his rifle in camp. He is presented as a sentimental lover who misses his girl and cannot wait to see her again. The lyrics help to make clear several American values that were prevalent during the war: the attachment to a loved one and the purity of the serviceman." Ann Kardos

Cowards Over Pearl Harbor Label

Cowards Over Pearl Harbor (1941)
Composed by: Fred Rose
Performed by: Denver Darling
Label: Decca 6008-A (1941)

"This song was recorded two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The mood is very somber and slow, very heartfelt and meant to make the listener feel sympathy and sorrow. However, the song defiantly puts America in the right, and shows us to be on God's side, which is a huge morale booster. It also shows the indominatable American spirit because the lyrics talk about how America will win and overcome the evil of Japan." Gabe Honig

Don't Worry Mom

Don't Worry Mom (1944)
Composed by: Harry Duncan & Paul William
Performed by: Sonny Dunham & his Orchestra
Label: Hit 7074 (1944)

"Don't Worry Mom is a sentimental pop song filled with notions of Americana, love, and apple pie. This song is the epitome of the focus on the mother during World War II as the key and most important component of the family unit and the soldiers' lives. Home is portrayed as an idealized place where danger, sadness, and longing do not exist. Instead home is a place where one is surrounded by friends, loved ones, and great home-cooked food rather than mud, men, and menace." Kelly Duchesney

G.I. Blues

G. I. Blues (1944)
Composed by: Floyd Tillman
Performed by: Floyd Tillman & his Favorite Playboys
Label: Decca 6104-A (1944)

"G. I, Blues is a Country and Western style song. It falls into the category of Armed Service songs. It is written from the point of view of an American soldier on the warfront. He describes the soldiers as sitting around and not doing anything which causes them to get fat. The soldier is very depressed and ready to go home. He understands that America will not be able to win the war if they continue to have lazy soldiers."  Meredith Schmidt

Hello Mom

Hello Mom (1942)
Composed by: Eddie Dunstedter
Performed by: Bing Crosby & West Coast AAF Training Center Orchestra
Label: Decca 4367-A (1942)

"In Hello Mom the ideas of both propaganda and morale are demonstrated. This is a song that was most likely heard on the home front, as it would have helped to ease a parent's worries about a son who was away at war. It does this well and also pomotes the purchase of war bonds in the process. It is performed by well-known crooner Bing Crosby in a slow and soothing manner, allowing the listener to feel at ease about the hardships of wartime." Andy Grounds

How About a Cheer for the Navy Label

How About a Cheer for the Navy (1942)
(From This is the Army)
Composed by: Irving Berlin
Performed by: All Soldier Orchestra and Chorus
Label: Decca 18477B

"How about a Cheer for the Navy was written by Irving Berlin as part of his all-soldier musical This is the Army. The song is sung by sailors who feel they do not receive the same attention as the army. The lyrics of the song refer to quite a few famous figures of the day. The sailors say that William Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, deserves as much respect as Henry Stimson, the Secretaty of War. There is also a mention of Astor and Vanderbilt, two famous New York millionaires, who the sailors bring up to show how high class the navy is. The song portrays the strength, patriotism, and importance of the navy in World War II. It conveys,through lyrical content and musical style, all of the characteristics that the public could hope to find in the forces defending the nation ." Michelle Bradbury

I'm Getting Tired So I Can Sleep Label

I'm Getting Tired So I can Sleep (1942)
(From This is the Army)
Composed by: Irving Berlin
Performed by: Pvt. Stuart Churchill & Soldier Octet
Label: Decca 18475B

"I'm Getting Tired So I Can Sleep" is about a soldier in the army who longs to sleep, because when he sleeps, he can dream of his girl back home. The song encompasses the sentiment of America and its soldiers during World War II. Everyone longed for a time that their loved ones could return home, and the soldiers prayed for the day they would be able to see their family and lovers again. Songs like this not only calmed the nerves and fed hope to soldiers overseas, but reminded those back home how important their love and support was to their soldiers and their country."  Lauren Chapman

I've Been Drafted

I've Been Drafted Now I'm Drafting You (1941)
Composed by: Lyle Moraine & Chuck Foster
Performed by: Kay Keyser & his Orchestra
Label: Columbia 36253

"I've Been Drafted is a love song that deals with the pains of separation and the dreams of reunion. The song is sung by a soldier who wants his sweetheart to cheer on his exploits and be proud to see him in uniform. He reassures her that when pin-up pictures are being passed around and when WACs offer him food, he will remain true to his 'little sugar baby'." Aleksy Cisowoski

I Wish I Could Hide

I Wish that I Could Hide Inside this Letter (1943)
Composed by: Nat Simon
Performed by: Lawrence Welk & his Orchestra
Label: Decca 4428-B (1943)

"The mood of the song is sentimental and nostalgic because it is about two lovers separated by war. The lover on the home front is writing a letter to her sweetheart and is imagining how happy they would be if they were together. The boy and the girl miss each other a lot, and while she is writing this letter, she wishes that she herself could be sent over." Eileen Jeng

Lalapaluza Lu

Lalapaluza Lu (1942)
Composed by: Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, Jerry Livingston
Performed by: Sammy Kaye & Glee Club
Label: Victor 27874-A (1942)

"This is a humorous song about a girl named Lu. All men want to join the militaty to win the war for her. It is a song of pure entertainment , but has a message that rang true to many military men. The women in their lives had a great impact and were reason enough to fight in the war." Emily Donahue

Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Jeep

Little Bo Peep has Lost her Jeep (1942)
Composed by: Jerry Browne & Frank DeVol
Performed by: Horace Heidt & his Musical Knights
Label: Columbia 36568 (1942)

"Little Bo Peep serves as the main character of the song who represents for the soldiers the people that supported them during the war. The idea of a civilian girl singing about getting a kick out of riding around with a soldier is exactly what the soldiers want to hear. In a way, it is like having a pinup girl sing to you about how they cannot wait to to go for a ride in your rugged, unglamorous army jeep." Ian Schaeffer

Ma I Miss Your Apple Pie

Ma! I Miss your Apple Pie (1941)
Composed by: Carmen Lombardo & John Jacob Loeb
Performed by: Guy Lombardo & his Royal Canadians
Label: Decca 3822-A

"As a song narrated by a G.I. at a training camp or overseas, Ma! I Miss Your Apple Pie easily sums up the notion of what America was fighting for. Apple pie, although relatively simple and wholesome, was in retrospect an icon for America and its freedom. The soldier who narrates the song constantly restates the fact that he misses his mom's apple pie. In other word this soldier yearns to come back to the goodness, freedom, and purity of the America that he once knew and loved." Stacey Fryer

On the Old Assembly Line

On the Old Assembly Line (1942)
Composed by: Ray Henderson
Performed by: Glenn Miller & his Orchestra
Label: Bluebird B-11480-A (1942)

"This song no doubt raised the spirits of thousands of Americans who had to work in boring, tedious jobs. It enabled them to take pride in themselves, because they too were working to win the war, just like the soldiers. The voices of the members of the different professions show the wide variety of work that it takes to win the war." Karen Chesley

Remember Hawaii Label

Remember Hawaii (1941)
Composed by: Don Reid & Sammy Kaye
Performed by: Bing Crosby with Dick McIntire & his Harmony Hawaiians
Label: Decca 25025B/Album A461 (1942)

"Remember Hawaii produces nostalgic thoughts about how Hawaii used to be before the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, and how that incident has forever changed the perception of the tropical paradise. Bing Crosby's approach to the lyrics is basically to set a somber, almost reflective/contemplative tone. He sings the song slowly, and repeats the chorus twice at the end of the song to reiterate the message of not forgetting what happened on the island, and in turn to the nation." Eric Shay

Saga of the Sad Sack

Saga of the Sad Sack (1945)
(from Strictly G. I.)
Composed by: I. Livingston & Hy Zaret
Performed by: Jules Munshin
Label: Asch 4554-A (1945)

"This song comes under the category of humor or novelty. Sad Sack was created by Sgt. George Baker and appeared in the U.S. Army weekly Yank Magazine as a comic strip. The character of Sad Sack as displayed by the song gives the enlisted men hope, encouragement and consolation. No matter how tough they had it, Sad Sack usually had it worse and at least someone else knew how they felt. The freedom of being able to laugh at your situation and your superiors helped to relieve a soldier's sense of being trapped away from home." Scot Connor

Something for the Boys

Something for the Boys (1942)
Composed by: Cole Porter
Performed by: Paula Laurence with Orchestra and Male Chorus
Label: Decca 23363-A (1944)

"This song acts as a musical pinup. The song is narrated by a woman who is used to going around with many men but has now adjusted her lifestyle to include soldiers. The military is portrayed in an easy-going way, telling how the soldiers enjoy spending time with this woman until 3 A.M." Josh Kanuck

Ten Days With Baby

Ten Days with Baby (1944)
Composed by: James Monaco
Performed by: Merry Macs Orchestra
Label: Decca 18630-A (1944)

"The soldier in this song is hoping for ten days of loving, kissing, and making every moment count. He is also hoping to deter his baby from crying while he is visiting. The lyrics while expressing many emotions and values of the time are not over-wrought with sappy emotion. This is a song that one would be able to dance to and lift their spirits. It definitely illustrates the lighter and happier aspects of World War II." Caitlin Peters

There's a Blue Star Shining Bright

There's a Blue Star Shining Bright (1943)
Composed by: Jack Foy, John Ravencroft, Ira Bastow, George Howard
Performed by: Red Foley
Label: Decca 6102-B (1944)

"This Country and Western style song falls into the patriotic category with overtones of mom and home. The song explains why there are blue star banners in windows. A home or workplace displayed a banner with a blue star to indicate that a family member or employee was proudly serving their country in the military. The song implies that the star not only represents the individual in the service but symbolizes and shines for freedom, liberty and America." Shirley Ellerbruch

Wonder When My Baby's Coming Home

Wonder When My Baby's Coming Home (1942)
Composed by: Kermit Goell & Arthur Kent
Performed by: Helen O'Connell with Jimmy Dorsey & his Orchestra
Label: Decca 18362-A

"Vocalist O'Connell sings sweetly without embellishment while dreaming of her lover's safe return from war. The audience can easily picture a girl next-door type gazing out of a window adorned with a star signifying her lover's involvement in the war, waiting patiently and keeping the fires of the home front burning. The singer is quite obviously committed to her 'baby', epitomizing the ideal sweetheart of the WWII era." Jennifer Lee

Thanks to the staff of The Belfer Audio Archive: