The following post is by retired music cataloger Sharon McKinley.
I’ve enjoyed perusing the Library’s World War I sheet music over the past few years as we’ve commemorated the centennial of The Great War. We are now coming to the end of the fighting. Although the Treaty of Paris wasn’t signed until June 28,1919, an armistice ended the hostilities on November 11, 1918, at 11 am in France, where it was signed earlier that day. Woodrow Wilson recognized the first anniversary of the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1919, and a series of proclamations and laws codified the holiday, eventually transforming it in the United States from Armistice Day into the Veterans Day holiday we know today.
The celebration of the end of 4 years of slaughter and destruction was an incredible release. The streets of Paris, London and New York were full of celebration. And just as they had set every other facet of the war to poetry and music, patriotic Americans wrote songs to commemorate the end as well, and catchy tunes began to appear almost immediately.
The successful songwriting team of James Kendis and James Brockman had a publishing house in New York. The cover of “Everybody’s happy now,” written with Nat Vincent, features a photograph of the well-known vaudevillian Billy Glason. This commercial publication surely sold many copies. It was deposited for copyright in December 1918, and likely benefitting from the fast turn-around time, was snatched up by eager customers.
But a large percentage of the Library’s World War I sheet music was produced by amateur composers self-publishing their work, as well as lyricists who paid professionals to provide tunes for their patriotic poetry.
“When the armistice was signed” is a good example of the vast vanity music publishing business, which took advantage of thousands of would-be lyricists. The cheerful cover—which led me to wonder if the boat on the far right was going to broadside the huge ship in the middle—was a stock illustration used on dozens of titles with music by Leo Friedman. There are over 1500 titles in our collections composed by Friedman, most of them copyrighted between 1917 and 1919. But J.M. Benedick, who wrote the rather mediocre poetry, at least had an actual publication in hand. Many World War I-era songs were deposited for copyright in manuscript, including only the sketch of the melody along with the lyrics. These may or may not have actually had a print run, or perhaps a few copies were printed as ordered and paid for by the client. But it was an opportunity to see your work in print, and there was obviously a high demand for this service. Read more about the vanity press here.
“At the dawn of peace” has a slightly different pedigree. Lola Lusk Thollehaug, of Sisseton, S.D., served here as composer, lyricist, and publisher. It was printed by Rayner Dalheim & Co. of Chicago, which was a very successful producer of self-published music. Their turn-around time was as fast as Kendis and Brockman’s. Like “Everybody’s happy now,” this song was deposited for copyright in December 1918, just a month after the Armistice was signed.
The creators of our final offering, “The eleventh of November (the day of all the days)” were hopeful about its impending success. Lyricist William Auberlin and composer R.B. Brewer styled it “The song with a theme that will live forever.” Since they gave their publishing company the whimsical name of November ‘Leventh Pub. Co., one might guess that it was a one-hit wonder, or perhaps not a hit at all. I’m sure it was popular with the friends and family who bought or received copies.
Musical contributions to World War I history didn’t stop here. Copyright deposits continued to pour in throughout 1919, and beyond. But it was good to be able to celebrate peace once again, as the world breathed a sigh of relief and raised its voice in song.
And in New York: