During World War II the American home front was awash in patriotic songs. Back then of course that meant sheet music, which was published by the millions as eager, patriotic citizens snapped up the latest tunes of the day. Much of that WW II sheet music is highly prized today, with some examples valued at over $1,000.
Remember Pearl Harbor
The United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Tin Pan Alley wasted no time in its contribution to the fledgling war effort, with "Remember Pearl Harbor," a patriotic ditty written by Don Reid and Sammy Kaye, hitting the radio airwaves only hours after the attack. In early 1942, "Remember Pearl Harbor" sheet music was published, featuring a colorful rendition of American warplanes heading to Japan to exact revenge.
The general patriotic theme, as exhibited in "Remember Pearl Harbor," became a favorite subject during the war. Other interesting and collectible sheets of this ilk include "United We Stand" (1941), "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere" (1942), "Yankee Doodle" (1942) and "Let This Freedom Ring" (1942). As might be expected, the American Flag was the dominant symbol in patriotic sheet music, with Uncle Sam, the Liberty Bell, et al., not far behind.
"Cleanin' My Rifle (And Dreamin' of You)" (1943) - choosebooks.com
Service-Related WW II Sheet Music
One of the most dominant themes in World War II sheet music is duty and service to country, especially as how it related to the average citizen-soldier. The Selective Training and Services Act – more commonly known as "the draft" – had been signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 16, 1940. An extension of that law was later enacted by the U.S. House of Representatives in August 1941, winning approval by a mere one vote.
Military life proved to be quite a culture shock for many recruits, with sheet music reflecting this new way of life. Among the surviving titles from that era are "Wait Till She Sees You in Your Uniform" (1940), "He's 1-A in the Army (And He's 1-A in My Heart)" (1941), "Since He Traded His Zoot Suit for a Uniform" (1942), "Johnny Zero" (1943) and "Bell Bottom Trousers" (1944). The latter of course was a U.S. Navy song, with bell bottom trousers standard issue for enlisted sailors.
Some WW II sheet music titles reflect the new military occupations for the millions of fresh recruits pouring into training centers and camps across America. The U.S. Army Air Corps (later called the U.S. Army Air Forces) inspired such titles as "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings" (1941), "The Bombardier Song" (1942) and of course "The Army Air Corps" (1939). The latter was written by Robert MacArthur Crawford a.k.a. "The Flying Baritone" – "Off we go into the wild blue yonder, Climbing high into the sun..." – and served as the official song of the United States Army Air Corps. Later, in 1947, when the U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of the military, the words were changed, as in "nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!"
Other music sheets dedicated to certain military specialties include "Song of the Army Engineer" (1939) and "The Infantry Kings of the Highway" (1942). The popular "Anchors Aweigh," billed as the "Song of the Navy" and written by Charles A. Zimmerman and Alfred Hart Miles in 1909, was later trotted out for World War II consumption.
"Bell Bottom Trousers" (1944) - Amazon.com
Battle-Related and Overseas WW II Sheet Music
Many sheet music titles bear the names of World War II battles and foreign lands. One prominent battle-related sheet is "Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima" (1945), written by Bob Wills and Cliff Johnson. Wills, the so-called "Daddy of Western Swing," recorded both "Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima" and another WW II entry titled "White Cross on Okinawa."
Sheet music examples with an overseas theme include "Till the Lights of London Town Shine Again" (1943), "There'll Be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover" (1941), "Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland" (1942) and "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Town of Berlin, When the Yanks Go Marching In" (1943).
Movie-Related WW II Sheet Music
Along with the rest of the country Hollywood went to war during the early 1940s. This is the Army (1942), an Irving Berlin musical which starred George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Joan Leslie and Kate Smith, produced a handful of sheet music titles. Among the entries were "This Is the Army, Mr. Jones," "That Russian Winter," "American Eagles" and "My Sergeant and I Are Buddies."
Another popular Hollywood musical, Hollywood Canteen (1944), featuring the Andrews Sisters, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, Joan Crawford, John Garfield, Bette Davis, et al., generated such sheet music titles as "Don't Fence Me In," "I'm Getting Corns for My Country" and "Sweet Dreams Sweetheart."
Buck Privates (1941), an Abbott & Costello comedy, produced "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith." Here Come the Waves (1944) generated "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," which features the film's stars Bing Crosby, Betty Hutton and Sonny Tufts on the cover.
"As Time Goes By" from Casablanca (1942) - Heritage Auction Galleries
World War II Novelty Sheet Music
World War II novelty songs, some of which border on the absurd, found their way into sheet music form. Among the more extreme titles were "If Hitler Was My Daddy (Tojo Was My Son)," "We're Gonna Find a Feller Who Is Yeller and Beat Him Red, White and Blue," "We're Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap (And Uncle Sam's the Guy Who Can Do It)" and "The Japs Don't Have a Chinaman's Chance." The latter tune was particularly strange, given the fact that China was fighting on the Allied side, a "minor" fact which apparently escaped the song's composer.
One of the biggies in WW II novelty sheet music is the Walt Disney-inspired "Der Fuehrer's Face," which came out in 1942. This stunning red, white and blue creation features an angry Donald Duck hurling a large tomato into the face of a surprised Adolf Hitler. Oliver Wallace lays claim to both the music and lyrics to this little ditty: "When der führer says we is de master race, We heil (pffft) heil (pffft) right in Der Führer's Face..." Well – pffft! – who could argue with that course of action?
"What this country needs is a good five-cent war song – something with plenty of zip, ginger and fire," roared Pennsylvania Congressman J. Parnell Thomas in the days following the Pearl Harbor attack. Thomas certainly got his wish, as any historian or sheet music collector can attest to, as the Second World War generated a plethora of war songs and sheet music which offer a unique look back at an era rapidly fading into history.
"Der Fuehrer's Face" (1942) - Heritage Auction Galleries
World War II Sheet Music Values
Values for World War II sheet music generally run in the $3 to $500+ range, with condition, subject matter, artwork and rarity as major factors in determining price. Here are actual selling prices, culled from auction houses, dealers and other outlets for World War II sheets in excellent or better condition:
- "Der Fuehrer's Face" (1942) - $567.63
- "We'll Write the Last Page of Mein Kampf" (1945) - $75.50
- "G.I. Jive" (1942) - $15
- "The Flying Fortress" (1944) - $10
- "When God Is Your Boy's Buddy" (1944) - $15
- "Any Bonds Today?" (1941) - $12.50
- "Every Soldier Has An Angel By His Side" (1942) - $10.50
- "We're the Girls of Uncle Sam" (1944) - $9
- "V for Victory" (1942) - $15
- "Tell It to the Marines" (1941) - $16
- "Shhh! It's a Military Secret" (1942) - $14.50
- "Rosie the Riveter" (1942) - $22.50
- "Vict'ry Polka" (1943) - $7.99
- "Cleanin' My Rifle (And Dreamin' of You)" (1943) - $25
- "God Bless America" (1938), signed on cover by Irving Berlin - $1,912
- "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca (1942) - $18
- "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" from Buck Privates (1941) - $21
- "There's An 'FDR' in Freedom (1942), signed by over 50 entertainers including Jack Benny, Guy Lombardo, Fred Allen, Al Jolson, Jimmy Dorsey and Vincent Lopez - $1,195
"There's An 'FDR' in Freedom (1942) - Heritage Auction Galleries
- Mel Casson "Remember Pearl Harbor" original comic art circa early 1940s - Heritage Auction Galleries
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.