The following is a guest post by retired cataloger Sharon McKinley.
The Library of Congress has a wealth of sheet music from World War I. Although the United States entered the Great War rather late in the game, Americans wrote commemorative songs by the thousands. This music ranges from the famous to the obscure; large numbers of people were inspired to write songs to support and entertain the troops as well as the folks at home.
In the spirit of the season, here are two Christmas songs from the era. Like many songs from World War I, they involve mystery songwriters. Many works were self-published, and many of their creators are difficult if not impossible to trace.
“Bring back my daddy to play Santa Claus” was composed by D. Davidson of Spokane, Washington. Davidson missed the boat: the song was received for copyright registration in December 1918, after the war ended. But it features a lovely cover and a maudlin verse, wherein a little girl asks Santa to find her Daddy and bring him back to play Santa Claus for the family. And who was this Spokane composer, who wrote both the words and music? It’s self-published, so we may never know. I’m sure at least the composer’s family and friends enjoyed the work.
“Soldiers’ [sic] Christmas Night,” published November 1917, has a text by Mariano Alarcón and music by Julian Benlloch. The manuscript seems to originate from the United States, but Alarcón and Benlloch were probably Spanish. Benlloch was a bandleader and composer of zarzuelas, and led bands for two different Spanish-flavored musical revues in New York in December 1917 and beyond. The florid vocal line of this song certainly fits in with the zarzuela style. As for the lyricist, there was a writer and translator from English to Spanish named Mariano Alarcón who was active at the time; he could conceivably have provided this English text, although there is no readily available evidence that he ever wrote song lyrics. The form in which the song was sent in for copyright is a common one for professional songwriters: submitted as a manuscript (and probably never published), and with a separate lyrics sheet.
These are but two of over 13,500 digitized WWI songs at the Library. There will be more mystery songwriters to read about, but for now, we end with two delightful recordings from 1917. The first is a lovely version of “Silent Night,” recorded in October, 1917 for a nation now at war to enjoy at home.
Recording companies put out recordings to please all possible groups, and reached out to millions of immigrant Americans and their families. “Novena di Natale,” an unusual folk-style Italian Christmas hymn featuring bagpipes known as zampogna, was recorded in Sept. 1917.
Read about Benlloch’s shows A Night in Spain and Land of Joy in Variety.