With all of the extra time my family’s been spending at home this summer, I’ve become aware of how addicted I am to good music.
Every day in my house has a soundtrack. Heavy cleaning days require something loud and peppy—one of the many 80’s mixes on CD shelf will usually do (yes, I still prefer physical media. :)) For quiet work time at the table or playing with the kids, a movie soundtrack or other instrumental offering is just right. For writing, the selection depends entirely on the mood of the scene I’m trying to capture.
Whatever our activity, I find that music has a unique way of shaping and influencing the mood of a day.
You don’t have to read too far into histories and memoirs to see that music was a major part of the life of men and women far from home during the Second World War. Music provided a chance for dancing and recreation. It could serve as a reminder of home and a chance to revisit pleasant memories and happy days far from the horrors of war. Songs that everybody knew and could sing along to provided camaraderie.
Of course, professional music wasn’t as easily accessible in the 40’s as it is in our digital age. Some musicians participated in the creation of “V-discs,” special gramophone records produced for the troops abroad. (The story of V-discs may merit their own post at a later date!) Others musicians visited troops personally through the American USO or the British ENSA. Still others used their musical gifts as part of their military service. One of these was Glenn Miller, whose band served troops in the European Theater. Another famous band leader served in the Pacific Theater: Artie Shaw.
Artie Shaw, born Arthur Arshawsky, was born in 1910 in the lower east side of Manhattan. A gifted clarinetist, he did not intend to pursue music as a career—he wished to be an author. However, music was a means to finance his education.
After his performance of an original composition, “Interlude in B Flat,” at the Imperial Theater in New York gained him public attention, he went on to form his own band. His first big hit was an arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” His popularity grew, and his band toured the country, playing with talented artists like Billie Holiday.
However, success also brought pressure. Reportedly, Shaw did not enjoy playing for noisy crowds who just wanted to dance. As he would at several times during his life, he broke up his band and walked away. Then, America went to war.
Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941, and became a chief petty officer. His talents caught the notice of his superiors, and he was ordered to form a band. However, if Artie Shaw were going to form a band, he had certain stipulations.
On hearing the names of the people who had been chosen to be in his band, he went “tacitly” AWOL in order to see the Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal.
“I want to get into the war!” Mr. Shaw told him. “And if I have to run a band, I want it to be good.”
His request was granted, and he set about recruiting musicians.
Starting at Pearl Harbor, HI, Artie Shaw and The Rangers played all around the Pacific Theater. In spite of dangers from bombs and illness, they traveled from island to island— including a stop at Guadalcanal—and played for the troops. In 1943, they went to New Zealand, where fans went so far as going AWOL in order to make a concert. In 1944, Artie Shaw received a medical discharge and left the Navy permanently.
While there are plenty of songs to pick from, I’ve chosen to share Artie Shaw’s 1941 recording of “Star Dust.” (Song originally written by Hoagy Carmichael.)
I hope you enjoy it!
What about you, readers and music lovers? What’s been on your “soundtrack” lately—any recommendations?
Thanks so much for stopping by!
If you’re interested in learning more about Artie Shaw, here are a couple of sites that I used that are not already linked in the article above.