The following is a guest post by Senior Cataloging specialist Sharon McKinley.
Sept. 29 marks the date in 1789 on which the U.S. Army was created by Congress. As a former civilian Army librarian, I have a soft spot in my heart for members of our military and their families. They are wonderful people to work with and to serve.
Military posts, bases and schools have a proud history of producing theatrical entertainments. Remind me to tell you about my star turn as the 2nd nun from the left in Sound of Music in Hanau, Germany in the 1980s. But more notable performers have appeared in shows for the military. Bob Hope, whose collection is the basis of the Library’s Hope for America exhibition, comes instantly to mind; his USO tours were an incredible morale-booster from 1941 through 1990, and the USO still produces tours featuring celebrities ranging from the Sesame Street gang to Stephen Colbert and rapper Chamillionaire.
Songs have been written about our armed services from the earliest years of our nation. Serious and not-so-serious songs abounded during the Civil War, commemorating battles, military units, broken-hearted mothers, and other topics.
One of the most important qualities of a populace subject to moving every three years or so, and always having to be adaptable in new situations, is a good sense of humor. The Music Division’s collections and web pages offer ample proof of this ability to poke fun at oneself and of course at one’s organization. Buoying up the troops’ spirits was a major goal of 20th-century songs and shows. The It’s Showtime presentation in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia catalogs a variety of shows and films by and about the Army. Among the It’s Showtime holdings is “Once upon a midnite,” a gem from a show called Here we go again that was “written at Camp Cable, Queensland, Australia, in March 1943 … [and] produced at Theater Royal, Brisbane, Australia … during July and August, 1944.” I’ve never heard of its composers, Private Elman Bacher and Staff Sergeant Robert E. Jones, but they were famous for a few months, at least, at an Army post far away from home, in a long war, keeping up morale through entertainment.
Irving Berlin famously served as a sergeant in WWI, staging Yip, Yip Yaphank at Camp Upton, in Yaphank, New York. Such “hits” as “I can always find a little sunshine in the Y.M.C.A.” were featured in this show, along with “Send a lot of jazz bands over there,” “We’re on our way to France,” ”Dream on little soldier boy,” “Kitchen police,” and “Poor little me.”
Berlin reprised his military success with 1941’s This is the Army , for which he wrote “This is the Army, Mr. Jones” – you can see the manuscript for this title in the online exhibition, American Treasures of the Library of Congress.
Berlin’s reference to the YMCA led me to discover that the YMCA provided food, beds, and entertainment for our military in France during World War I, and some of the entertainment was live, as seen in this 1918 broadside from An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera.
The 1915 show Her soldier boy includes a pastiche of songs famous and un- , including that WWI-era favorite “Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile,” by Felix Powell and George Asaf.
The 1950 motion picture score for At war with the Army by Jerry Livingston and Mack David includes “The Navy gets the gravy but the Army gets the beans” and “Tonda Wonda Hoy,” featuring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
At your service, a 1943 production of the Sacramento Air Service Command, was written by well-known lyricist (Pvt.) Edward Heyman. Better known for hits such as “When I fall in love,” he served up more topical songs for this show, such as ”Spirit of the A.S.C. (Air Service Command song).”
Until Sept. 18, 1947, when the Air Force was made a separate service, the Army Air Force also contributed to American military musical history. Bowen Field (Boise, Idaho) produced All clear, Bowen Field’s Army Air Force musical revue in 1943. The thoroughly topical material includes “Write me a love letter baby,” by James A. Threlkell and William Hodapp; “Da da dit,” by Walter Head; and “I’m wacky for a WAAC,” by Stanley Mitchell
I could go on forever with this wonderful music, but this is just a taste of fabulous entertainment for and by our men and women in uniform. Check out the Performing Arts Encyclopedia and other Library sources for more.