Songs of the Great War
When war broke out in Europe in August of 1914, Americans were divided over the course of action the United States should pursue. It would be almost three more years before President Wilson went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Germany, but throughout those years Americans heard and/or sang thousands of songs which dealt with the war. Produced mostly in New York City in the area known as Tin Pan Alley, these popular songs reflect the range of American feelings at the time. Adjectives one might use to describe the pieces of sheet music with their eye-catching covers and snappy tunes are pacifistic, patriotic, jingoistic, sentimental, and humorous.
Although the primary motivation of the music publishers was to produce these songs for entertainment, they were also a type of propaganda meant to influence the attitude of the American public toward the war. By viewing the sheet music in chronological sequence, one can see a change from pacifism at the outbreak of hostilities to patriotism during America’s involvement in the war to relief with the return of peace.