Many Voices: The Great War in America’s Songs (New Smithsonian Institution Exhibit Opens at the Sousa Archives Today)

When World War I began in 1914 the United States proclaimed that it would follow a policy of strict neutrality “in thought and deed,” and President Wilson firmly believed that peace was the only course of action needed to resolve the European conflict.  Many Americans felt the same way, but as the war’s atrocities, both fictional and real, were publicized, some politicians and military leaders began to voice their support for military intervention.

After the United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917 the country witnessed a dramatic mobilization of industry and financial resources to produce trained soldiers, food, munitions, and equipment which were in short supply at the start of America’s involvement.  The federal government set up hundreds of temporary agencies with over a million new employees to help redirect the nation’s economy.  America’s sheet music industry joined forces with the U.S. Committee on Public Information to help sell the ideals of patriotism, sacrifice, and volunteerism to the American public as the only way to win this war.

This special exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History depicts the diverse portrayals of soldiers’ lives, recruitment of African-American soldiers, women’s support for the war effort, and the country’s financial and personal sacrifice through the melodies, lyrics and sheet music illustrations that were produced between 1917 and 1919.

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