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World War II Sheet Music Gallery

Popular Songs

The country's first peacetime military draft (September 16, 1940) raised the specter of conflict more than a year before Pearl Harbor. Americans sensed the possibility of war and popular song as well as other entertainment reflected this growing understanding. The 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade about a Norwegian war refugee traveling with a big band, at once showcased the day's brightest radio stars and foreshadowed a life during wartime. Glenn Miller, the film's musical star, watched "Chattanooga Choo Choo" soar to the top of the charts in the fall of 1941. The song became the first record to be formally certified a million-seller and it was the #1 hit single when December 7 plunged Americans headlong into a second World War. Popular radio entertainment now had a new role - sharing the airwaves with battlefront accounts and assertive political speeches that colored the radio dial.

Poster with text "Avenge December 7"  Poster image courtesy of the Truman Presidential Museum and Library.  Click for enlarged image.Even as Pearl Harbor smoldered, musicians scrambled to the studio to memorialize the sneak attack and rally the home front. Recorded ten days after the Day of Infamy, band leader Sammy Kaye's recording of "Remember Pearl Harbor" hit the charts in January 1942, peaking at #3. Its immediate popularity spawned a wealth of patriotic anthems such as "We Did It Before And We'll Do It Again," "Goodbye, Mama (I'm Off To Yokohama)," "The Son-of-a-gun Who Picks On Uncle Sam," and "Let's Put The Axe To The Axis." Later, in March 1942, Peter "Doctor" Clayton brought the "Pearl Harbor Blues" to a burgeoning rhythm and blues audience.

With passions running high, all vestiges of political correctness went out the window. Americans quickly demonized the Japanese in song. Carson Robison's "Remember Pearl Harbor" (a completely different song than Kaye's) backed with the blunt manifesto "We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap (And Uncle Sam's The Guy Who Can Do It)" left little to the imagination.

Ironically, as the war intensified and supplies diminished, a shortage of shellac -- a material used to manufacture 78 rpm discs -- curtailed the output of commercially issued war songs. Then, on August 1, 1942, James Petrillo, President of the American Federation of Musicians, implemented a recording ban to combat the shrinking market for live musicians (the growing trend of jukeboxes and disc jockeys was putting musicians out of work). As the ban dragged on, the Armed Forces, realizing music's importance to the war effort, produced its own V (for victory) discs for the troops. From the attack on Pearl Harbor, continuing throughout the course of the war, music remained an integral part of the war effort.

The nine songs presented below are from the 78 rpm and LP collections in the Marr Sound Archives.

Click on the buttons below to listen to the songs
Click on the record labels to view enlarged label images

Chattanooga Choo Choo by Glenn Miller.  Recorded May 7, 1941; Bluebird B-11230

Remember Pearl Harbor by Sammy Kaye; Victor 27738

We Did It Before And We'll Do It Again by Dick Robertson.  Recorded December 16, 1941; Decca 4117

Goodbye, Mama (I'm Off To Yokohama) by Teddy Powell.  Recorded December 16, 1941; Bluebird B-11412

The Son-of-a-gun Who Picks On Uncle Sam by Carl Hoff.  Recorded December 23, 1941; Okeh 6609

Let's Put The Axe To The Axis by Abe Lyman.  Recorded December 18, 1941; Bluebird B-11410 (Folkways Records label shown here)

Pearl Harbor Blues by Peter "Doctor" Clayton.  Recorded March 27, 1942; Bluebird B-9003

Remember Pearl Harbor by Carson Robison.  Recorded December 1941; Bluebird B-11414

We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap (And Uncle Sam's The Guy Who Can Do It) by Carson Robison.  Recorded December 1941; Bluebird B-11414

Text by Chuck Haddix & Kelly McEniry, Marr Sound Archives
Digital Audio by Scott Middleton, Marr Sound Archives

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Father and daughter listening to the radio in their home, 1940. Image courtesy American Memory FSA-OWI Collection.  Click to go to "Voices of World War II" home page.
Voices of World War II: Experiences From the Front and at Home
A project in partnership with the Truman Presidential Museum and Library.
Audio from the collections of the Marr Sound Archives - Department of Special Collections.
Miller Nichols Library - University of Missouri - Kansas City.
© 2001-2004 UMKC University Libraries. All Rights Reserved. 'Voices' Home Page

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February 3, 2005