Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Songs of World War I

Helen Clark photo Helen_Clark_zpsa0876deb.jpg World War I scene photo WW1_trench_zpsc39c518c.jpg Florrie Florde photo Florrie_Forde_zpsb5931f7d.jpg
Mark Sheridan photo Billy_Murray_zps2880cdf5.jpg Billy Murray photo mark_sheridan_zps95943fd7.jpg Rosa Ponselle photo Rosa_Ponselle_zpsf91aac81.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Helen Clark; Photo from the literal trenches of WWI; Florrie Forde; Rosa Ponselle; Billy Murray; and Mark Sheridan.

As this is Memorial Weekend, I thought I would do a bit of research and decided it would be fun to play some of the music of World War I. The War started on July 28, 1914 and did not end until November 11, 1918. The War was pretty much fought on the ground of Europe, although all people in the world were affected by it to some degree or another. It all began with a single shot fired in a highly-charged atmosphere of Europe. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand brought the tensions to a head in the area, and soon the whole world was picking side, and getting involved. That included the United States, as the American Armed Forces stood beside the Allied forces in battle. The first song I being to you this evening is one that was really more a call to arms, really a recruitment tool. "Your King and Country Want You" was written by Paul Rubens and recorded by several ladies eager to encourage young men to fight for the crown. I was able to find this version by Helen Clark, released in 1914.

Next up, I found an amazing lady by the name of Florrie Forde. She was born in Australia, and quickly became a star in the music halls there. When she was 21, she moved to London, and took her new home by storm. She quickly became a big star, both on stage and in the recording studios in 1903. She quickly became a voice of the country, and this was certainly the case when she recording a couple of songs during the war that instantly struck a nerve with the British public. Here is Florrie Forde singing "A Long Long Way To Tipperary" and "Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag And Smile, Smile, Smile". The first was a British music hall song written by Jack Judge and co-credited to, but not co-written by, Henry James "Harry" Williams. The latter was a World War I marching song, published in 1915 in London. It was written by George Henry Powell under the pseudonym of "George Asaf", and set to music by his brother Felix Powell. While she certainly sang them while the war raged on, Florrie rerecorded two of her hits in 1929.

I first learned of this song, as well as the first song, when working on a production of 'Oh, What A Lovely War' while in college. The show features several songs from World War I, from propaganda to heartwarming. Now, I would have to say "Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser" would distinctly fall under the category of propaganda, as well as ribald entertainment. The song was first performed by Mark Sheridan in 1914. He was a well-known comedian and singer from the music halls, and songs like this, which combined national pride with humor mocking the enemy, made him a popular man. Please enjoy him original recording of "Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser".

Next I have a patriotic novelty song sung by tenor Billy Murray in 1915. Murray was born in Philadelphia, the song of Irish immigrants. In the 1890s, Murray made a name for himself playing vaudeville shows, as well as traveling minstrel shows. After the new century rolled in, he was recording songs, both comedic and serious in nature. The song I picked here would be the former, as "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts For Soldiers" was a bit of a tongue-twister, as well as sending a strong message to the people not fighting the war that we must support out troops.

In the last song of this post, I offer up the stirring and beautiful "Keep The Home Fires Burning" composed in 1914 by Ivor Novello with lyrics by Lena Gilbert Ford. It was recorded by several different people at the time, and quickly became a favorite of the people with sons or brothers or husbands or friends battling in the war. I have chosen a version by Rosa Ponselle, a young woman born in Connecticut, the daughter of Italian immigrants. She began singing in movie theaters, entertaining the audiences while the reels were being changed. Soon there were more engagements, singing in cabarets and clubs. That led to work in vaudeville, which later brought her to the attention of the Metropolitan Opera, where she was a featured soprano. But while still singing popular music for the masses, she made a beautiful recording of "Keep The Home Fires Burning", so please enjoy it.

What binds all these songs together was their appreciation and support for the men and women who serve their country, no matter which country that was. Whether it was the United States, England, Ireland, Australia, or any other place where music could be heard. And now, a century later, we celebrate Memorial Day, a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Today, like every other day of the year, we offer them out sincere gratitude for all they have done. Thank you.

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