As diplomatic relations in Europe began to crumble early in the 20th century war began to seem more and more imminent for America, despite Wilson’s isolation policy. The war ran from 1914 to 1918 and set a precedent for gruesome warfare and achieving victory by any means necessary including: machine guns, chemicals, and trench warfare. While countless history books tell the firsthand accounts of soldiers overseas an interesting, overlooked, facet of the is how the children reacted to it on the home front.
Popular early 20th century music depicts an overarching sense of hope, patriotism, and heartache from America’s youth during the war. Typically, young children struggle to grasp the concept of death. Life seems infinite to the youth and the world is viewed through a hopeful and positive lens. This generalization holds true for the kids during WWI. In the song “Bring Back My Daddy to Me” by William Tracey and Howard Johnson a young girl asks for her birthday present to be her dad coming home. This exemplifies a typical attitude that children have.
The young child has no fear that her dad won’t be returning home and assumes that as a present he can return home. The song depicts the girl smiling to her mom and saying she’ll give all of her dolls and dressers to poor kids as long as she gets her dad back as a gift. These lyrics pack a powerful punch for the audience listening because while it’s cute that the girl is so confident her dad will return home unscathed, it makes listeners cringe because they understand how dangerous war is and that there’s a high chance her dad won’t return and her whole life will be altered.
In the popular song “Hello! Gen’ral Parshing” by Lew Porter the sense of hopefulness is depicted by a young toddler who tries to get in contact with her father. The young girl has noticed that her mom has been visibly upset and wants to know why. One night, after her mom has fallen asleep, she calls the operator and asks to get into contact with one of the most decorated and recognized figures of WWI, General Parshing. She proceeds to ask the general, who she never got put through to, how her dad is doing and how excited she is for him to return home after the United States wins the war.
This is the epitome of the hope the children had during the war. The thought of our army losing the war doesn’t even cross her mind and she is sure that her dad will return victorious. While these songs tended to evoke sadness in some listeners, they could also give hope to listeners because the children’s confidence inspired them to be more positive and hopeful in order to collectively improve the moral of the home front. Just like in today’s music industry, cover art of sheet music could help paint a visual image of the lyrics and notes inside.
Painting and music are both eloquent forms of art and both can tell stories and depict emotions. The sense of childish hope is perfectly depicted on the cover art of “Good-Bye Daddy Dear” by Ben Black. The painting shows a young boy with a smile on his face looking up to his dad in uniform. Hopefulness and positivity radiate off of this black and white image. The young boy seems to be relaxed and content as he looks up to his father and holds his hands. It’s clear that the boy doesn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the fact that he may never see his dad again.
The dad is painted as solemn and tough, he has broad shoulders and is standing straight up like a good soldier. The young boy’s sense of hope is derived from the tough image his father puts off. The hopeful smile of the young boy insinuates that he has all the faith in the world for his dad and has no reason to worry for his wellbeing. This powerful sheet music cover embodies the optimistic feelings children had toward the war. One of the underlying themes of America during times of crisis is a strong sense of patriotism that brings the country together.
These patriotic attitudes are prevalent in people of all age and race. The American youth was very patriotic during WWI and were very proud of the country their loved ones were fighting for. In the song “Gee! But I’m Proud of My Daddy” by Carl J. Mueller, A. G. Damhorst, and Carl Zerse a young boy consoles his mother with nationalistic ideology. The young boy sees his mother crying and immediately tells her not to worry. His argument for her to not be upset is the soldiers are fighting for the, “dear old U. S. and that his dad will return home after he achieves victory. The young boy’s personification of the United States and the guaranteed victory illustrate the pride he has for his country. By giving the United States human characteristics it’s evident that the young boy has a lot of respect for his country and looks at it as more than a land mass but as a living entity that millions of people are overseas fighting for. When the young boy guarantees victory in Europe he is making a bold statement and showing immense faith in his country.
The young boy believes in his dad and the rest of the soldiers so much that his method of consoling his mother is promising her husband will be home after they take care of business on the battlefield and obtain their victory. The patriotic mindset depicted by such a young child speaks volumes to the attitude of Americans as a whole because they got people from all age demographics on board with the war and that is crucial to success. Patriotism typically oozed off the covers of popular sheet music during WWI. One piece of artwork that stands out in particular is the cover of “The Bravest Heart of All” by Raymond Egman.
The first thing one’s eyes are drawn to is the navy blue background that makes the white lettering and the light images depicted pop off the cover. The blue and white painted on this match the colors of our flag. The image painted on the cover depicts a young boy who is being held by his mother while he waves to a sturdy naval ship sailing off in the distance. All of the images scream America. The young boy is wearing a red bowtie, a white oxford shirt, and blue trousers, the naval ship is menacing and powerful looking with an American flag flowing off the back, and there is a seagull trailing the ship which is a common symbol for freedom.
The incorporation of all these elements based off of a song about a young boy whose dad went to war confirm the idea that patriotism was felt by people of all ages during World War One. Although children typically had a strong sense of confidence that our troops would return home unscathed, they still experienced heartache from missing their fathers overseas. Technology limited communication to handwritten letters. A common theme that music writers incorporated into their lyrics was the feeling of emptiness and heartache children struggled with during the war.
Typically, the thoughts of children during war time are overlooked because they seem mundane, but popular music expressed the feelings of these children during the early 20th century. In Allie Toland Criss’ popular song “Please Mr. Mailman Bring Me a Letter” a distraught child begs her mailman everyday to bring her a letter from her father. She is concerned for her fathers well being because she claimed her father promised to write to her and he knows how to spell her name. This makes the audience of the song feel very sad because the lyrics allude to the death of her father.
Lyrics like these were commonplace back then, it was a common theme to depict the struggles the children faced. Another popular song with pain stricken lyrics is A. L. Jolson’s hit “Oh! How I Wish I Could Sleep Until My Daddy Comes Home”. The song paints a picture of a young boy who tells his mother how he he dreams of his dad every night and wants to sleep until his dad returns because he hates living a life without him. These lyrics are heavy and make listeners feel a heavy pain for the young boy. The incorporation of the grief of innocent children help to carry an underlying antiwar message.
The fusion of war music and children’s viewpoint helped to make a successful formula for popular music. This successful facet of music helped to depict the hope, patriotism and grief children experienced during the war. The unique quality to this, relatively, new style of lyrics and cover art illuminate a commonly overlooked aspect, the feelings children who weren’t directly involved in combat felt during the war. These groundbreaking songs prove that war effects everyone and regardless of your age, race, or gender.