Songs Of World War I Reveal Changing American Attitudes | WGLT

Songs Of World War I Reveal Changing American Attitudes

Nov 9, 2017

In 1917, when America marched off to join the fight in World War I, it it did so to the rhythm of popular songs.

When George M. Cohan wrote the rousing song "Over There," Americans were enthralled by the patriotic soundtrack that accompanied the war effort.

But according the Dale Evans, a local musician and history buff, shortly before America joined the war, the nation was reluctant to join the fight over there and songs of pacifism were reflected in the popular music of the day. "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier" was one such popular number.

After the sinking of the Lusitania, America joined the war and the popular music scene shifted to feature a wide array of patriotic songs. "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier" was rewritten and turned into "It's Time For Every Boy to be a Soldier."

"They just changed the lyrics," explained Evans, an avid collector of sheet music of the day. "There were about 4,000 titles written during WWI."

Bloomington-Normal was a popular vaudeville stop for performers who would come to town and perform many of the patriotic songs of the war era. That helped with sheet music sales as consumers took the music to heart and home. The subject matter of those songs was long on patriotism, plus quite a bit of Kaiser Wilhelm bashing thrown in for good measure. Evans pointed out the tune "We'll Make the Kaiser Goosestep to a Good Old American Rag" as a much-appreciated song of the time.

After the war, the popular songs of the day reflected the new attitude of the soldiers coming home. "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm" had fun exploring the notion of far boys going continental after service abroad. 

Dale Evans joins singer Hannah Kerrigan for a program entitled "Music From the Great War" on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 1 p.m. at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington.

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