On April 2, 1917, as President Wilson delivered his war address to Congress with these famous words, “The world must be made safe for Democracy,” America shuddered with both fright and excitement. The government knew that America was entering the war without a plan. No government official even thought of sending troops to Europe to rescue the allies. Neutrality was the Wilson administration’s tune of the day and no one wanted to get involved in a war they saw as foreign and distant, but something stronger than the government wanted to join the war: the American public. Thanks to sensational journalists like William Randolph Hearst, people became aware of Germany’s unrestricted submarine campaign to attack any passenger and merchant ship and the crafty Zimmermann Telegram. People sent a clear message to Wilson and his administration that they were not going to stand idly by.
While Americans were strongly in favor of supporting the Allied cause, there was no concrete decision if the country was going to commit troops to the war and to what level that commitment would be. This was no better time for music and war to meet. America’s entry into the war in 1917 came during the heyday of popular songwriting and the music publishing industry, with its headquarters in New York’s Tin Pan Alley. Both a vehicle for propaganda and comfort, music in wartime solidified American identity and democracy that was transported over the Atlantic without threats from German submarine warfare. Without the immediate motive of a defensive war, American participation had to be explained to those who wanted to remain neutral in terms of ideas and principles, principally the notion of a crusade for democracy.
From ragtime to jazz, from pacifist songs to martial pro-war songs, and from the cold trenches of the Western Front to the warm hearth of the rustic cabin in the Midwest, this site tells the story how music played a crucial role in helping the United States and its allies win the war.