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WWII In American Music: Pearl Harbor & Reaction
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Part 4: Pearl Harbor & Reaction
Hawaii Before The Attack
Relations between the United States and Japan, strained in the 1930s over Japan's foreign policy in China and the resulting failure of Roosevelt to invoke the neutrality act, only worsened in 1940 and 1941. In July 1940, the American government placed an embargo on all scrap iron, steel, high octane gasoline, and aviation lubrication oil going to Japan. On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, making them allies. On January 7, 1941, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew in Tokyo warned his superiors, "There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the U.S., are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack at Pearl Harbor. I rather guess that the boys in Hawaii are
not precisely asleep." Though it's clear now that America was on a path toward war with Japan throughout the 1940s, no one really expected any attack east of the Philippines. Hawaii, not yet a state, was to Americans a dreamy paradise in 1941.

The most popular movie made about Hawaii up to that time was Waikiki Wedding (1937), starring Bing Crosby. Full of grass skirts, palm trees, and sweet Crosby crooning, Waikiki Wedding helped crystallize in the minds of many Americans the image of Hawaii as a carefree paradise. Later, during the war years, a medley of the songs from this movie would be sung again by Bing Crosby on a V Disc. Waikiki Wedding is referred to in the medley introduction as, "A foolish fable of those faraway times." The songs below help show the total disconnect between the reality of war and tragedy that was soon to unfold on that Pacific island paradise.
"Medley From Waikiki Wedding" by Bing Crosby (V-Disc) (1944)
sound "Medley From Waikiki Wedding" by Bing Crosby (V-Disc) (1944)
Images of Hawaii as a paradise prevailed right up until the Japanese attack. In March 1941, Sammy Kaye recorded "Hawaiian Sunset," yet another interpretation of Hawaii as a tropical, romantic paradise:

Hawaiian Sunset, soft shadows falling,
The hush of twilight, and lovely you.
Hawaiian Sunset, I hear it calling,
and in the sunset I'll come to you.


Even the cover of the sheet music evokes beauty, love, peace.
"Hawaiian Sunset" by Sammy Kaye (1941)
sound "Hawaiian Sunset" by Sammy Kaye (1941)
Sheet Music: "Hawaiian Sunset" (1941)
Sheet Music: "Hawaiian Sunset" (1941)
Sheet Music: "It's Heaven In Hawaii" (1941)
Sheet Music: "It's Heaven In Hawaii" (1941)
Johnny Noble made a career out of promoting Hawaiian-themed music to the American mainland in the 1920s and 1930s. His song, "It's Heaven in Hawaii," also released in 1941, would be one of the very last of its kind:

It's Heaven In Hawaii
The palms are swaying as you and I are straying
beside a silver sea
It's Heaven In Hawaii


On December 7, 1941, 350 Japanese planes launched in two waves from six aircraft carriers attacked the American navy and army facilities on Oahu, killing 2,400 Americans and forcing America into a war.
 
Reaction to the Attack
Song titles and lyrics about the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the War are often vicious and full of themes of violence. Intense competition among sheet music and record producers in Manhattan's Tin Pan Alley meant that songs were
written and rushed into production days or even hours after the attack. These songs thus captured the raw anger, humiliation, and feelings of betrayal that most Americans felt about Pearl Harbor. The attack also made it socially acceptable to express these emotions in ways that took on not just connotations of nationalism and patriotism, but also of race. Though his was not the first song penned following the attack, composer Charles Tobias's song "We Did It Before (and We Can Do it Again)" was the first to receive air play, thanks to his brother-in-law singer Eddie Cantor, who performed the song on his radio variety show Wednesday night, December 10. More upbeat and less vicious than many that would follow, the song was a reminder of the country's effort to make the world safe for democracy a generation before, and an acknowledgment of the work that lay ahead; work that could possibly take as many as ten years to finish. Exceptionally popular, the song was recorded by multiple artists, including Carl Hoff and his Orchestra (with vocals by The Murphy Sisters), Dick Robertson, Barry Wood, Clyde Lucas, and Eddie Howard.
Sheet Music: "We Did It Before " (1941)
Sheet Music: "We Did It Before " (1941)
"We Did It Before" by Barry Wood (1941)
sound "We Did It Before" by Barry Wood (1941)
"We Did It Before" by Dick Robertson (1941)
sound "We Did It Before" by Dick Robertson (1941)
"We Did It Before" by Eddy Howard (1941)
sound "We Did It Before" by Eddy Howard (1941)
"We Did It Before" by Carl Hoff & Murphy Sisters (1941)
sound "We Did It Before" by Carl Hoff & Murphy Sisters (1941)
"We Did It Before" by Clyde Lucas (1942)
sound "We Did It Before" by Clyde Lucas (1942)
Sheet Music: "We've Got a Job To Do On The Japs, Baby (1942)
Sheet Music: "We've Got a Job To Do On The Japs, Baby (1942)
Sheet Music: "It's Taps For The Japs" (1942)
Sheet Music: "It's Taps For The Japs" (1942)
Sheet Music: "We'll Knock The Japs Right Into The Laps of the Nazis (1942)
Sheet Music: "We'll Knock The Japs Right Into The Laps of the Nazis (1942)
New York composers were practically tripping over each other trying to get their (sometimes) hastily conceived works published. Some forgettable submissions included "Let's Take a Rap at the Japs," "Taps for the Japs," "We've Got To Do a Job on the Japs, Baby," "Oh, You Little Son of an Oriental," "When Those Little Yellow Bellies Meet the Cohens and the Kellys," "We'll Knock The Japs Right Into The Laps of The Nazis," (a weak effort at waging a two-front war in a single song), and "We're Going to Find a Fellow Who Is Yellow and Beat Him Red, White and Blue." In an act of selective racism, one submission, "The Japs Haven't Got a Chinaman's Chance," was renamed "The Japs Haven't Got a Ghost of a Chance," out of sensitivity over America's Oriental allies. In an era of overt racism, there were now good Orientals and bad Orientals.
It's fairly well known now that most Americans did not know what "Pearl Harbor" was before December 7, 1941. After December 7, everyone knew, and the place was quickly immortalized in the battle cry, "Remember Pearl Harbor!" Within days songs appeared invoking the name. An advertisement in the December 17 issue of the show business journal Variety proclaimed, "America Will Never Forget...WE'LL ALWAYS REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR...The Song the Waves Are Singing Along Hawaiian Shores." This song, pictured to the right, was written by Alfred Bryan, Willie Raskin, and Gerald Marks and published by Mills Music. Several competing versions of the song were also in the works, most notably Don Reid & Sammy Kaye's version, the title shortened to just "Remember Pearl Harbor." A third version was penned by Johnny Noble, the composer mentioned above with a catalogue of Hawaiian-themed songs. A fourth version with racist lyrics was written by Frank Luther and recorded by Carson Robison.
Sheet Music: "We'll Always Remember Pearl Harbor (1941)
Sheet Music: "We'll Always Remember Pearl Harbor (1941)
Sheet Music: "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Johnny Noble) (1941)
Sheet Music: "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Johnny Noble) (1941)
In January, Bing Crosby recorded "Remember Hawaii," and "Sing Me a Song of The Islands", both much more nostalgic in nature. Their relative obscurity today is perhaps indicative of a failure to realize at the time that things had changed. Of all the Pearl Harbor-titled songs, the Don Reid/Sammy Kaye version became the most popular. Kaye recorded the song only ten days after the attack. With its patriotic lyrics (devoid of any racism), and its powerful, driving music, it is truly a tour de force of Big Band sound, fondly remembered today by the World War II Generation. Reid/Kaye versions of "Remember Pearl Harbor," with slight lyric variations, were made by Eddie Howard, Charlie Spivak, Duke Daley, and Dick Robertson.
"Remember Hawaii" by Bing Crosby (1942)
sound "Remember Hawaii" by Bing Crosby (1942)
"Sing Me a Song of the Islands" by Bing Crosby (1942)
sound "Sing Me a Song of the Islands" by Bing Crosby (1942)
Sheet Music: "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) (1941)
Sheet Music: "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) (1941)
"Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Sammy Kaye (1941)
sound "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Sammy Kaye (1941)

"Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Eddie Howard (1941)
sound "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Eddie Howard (1941)
"Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Charlie Spivak (1941)
sound "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Charlie Spivak (1941)
"Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Duke Daly (1941)
sound "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Duke Daly (1941)
"Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Dick Robertson (1942)
sound "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Reid) by Dick Robertson (1942)
Most of the other Pearl Harbor-inspired songs are much darker, more violent, and often overtly racist. America had been taken by surprise at Pearl Harbor. Worse, the Japanese has not conducted themselves in accordance with Western notions of "fair play". Negotiations in Washington were ongoing. Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, and special envoy Saburo Kurusu had arrived at Secretary of State Cordell Hull's office an hour after the attack began with a letter officially breaking off negotiations. As President Roosevelt noted in his December 8 address before Congress, "The distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace." The Japanese admiral who had planned the attack, Isoroku Yamamoto, was familiar with ancient Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu's Art of War, in which he declared, "If the enemy opens the door, you must race in...when the enemy opens the door--be like a fleeing rabbit. The enemy will be unable to withstand you." Furthermore, Japan had begun all of their modern wars with a surprise attack. This tradition enabled Yamamoto to successfully argue for the preemptive strike. The late delivery of the letter to Secretary Hull, the "sneak attack," and the delay of a formal declaration of war until the evening of December 7 made the Americans feel they had been stabbed in the back. The atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China were well known, but in the early months of 1942 there would be more, this time perpetrated against America and her allies. To Americans, these were not the actions of a civilized people. Many Americans were angry and wanted revenge.
"Remember Pearl Harbor" (Luther) by Carson Robison (1941)
sound "Remember Pearl Harbor" (Luther) by Carson Robison (1941)
Two recordings most notable for their themes of revenge and anger appeared on sides A and B of a December 1941 Bluebird release by Carson Robison. This performer had earned a living and reputation as a cowboy and hillbilly artist throughout the 1920s and 1930s, spending many of those years working with Vernon Dalhart. His most prolific years were before 1930, but with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Robison found a temporary niche as a novelty song artist. Robison's version of Frank Luther's "Remember Pearl Harbor," while emphasizing the sneak attack, manages to call the Japanese "rats," "vultures," and "yellow scum" (no longer deserving of being considered our "little brown brothers"). Twice he advocates killing all Japanese, managing in the last verse to invoke both religion and the patriotic duty of all Americans to help support the war effort by buying more war bonds.

On the B side is a rather amazing anti-Japanese recording, "We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap (And Uncle Sam's The Guy Who Can Do It)," written by Bob Miller. This song, also refers to
the Japanese as "yellow." While this is undoubtedly a reference to the "cowardly" act of a sneak attack, it also seems clear that use of the word is part of the common race caricature of Japanese seen throughout the war. Even the sheet music is yellow. The Carson Robison version of this song did not include the third verse. However, that verse was included in a version recorded by Lucky Millinder on February 18, 1942.

The remaining releases with "Pearl Harbor" as part of the title were, "Cowards Over Pearl Harbor" by Denver Darling; "Pearl Harbor Blues," by Doctor Clayton; and "Wasn't That An Awful Time at Pearl Harbor?," by the
Sheet Music: "We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap (1941)
Sheet Music: "We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap (1941)
"We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap" by Carson Robison (1941)
sound "We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap" by Carson Robison (1941)
"We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap" by Lucky Millinder (1942)
sound "We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap" by Lucky Millinder (1942)
"Cowards Over Pearl Harbor" by Denver Darling (1942)sound "Cowards Over Pearl Harbor" by Denver Darling (1942) "Pearl Harbor Blues" by Doctor Clayton (1942)sound "Pearl Harbor Blues" by Doctor Clayton (1942) "Wasn't That An Awful Time at Pearl Harbor?" by the Selah Jubilee Singers (1942)sound "Wasn't That An Awful Time at Pearl Harbor?" by the Selah Jubilee Singers (1942)
Selah Jubilee Singers. Darling's melancholy country song is unusual in that it is somewhat devoid of anger. Rather, the narrator is saddened how the attack has spread the war to the rest of the world. The dishonor of the sneak attack is emphasized, and he questions what the Japanese adults will tell their children. The narrator also questions how the Japanese will explain their deeds come judgment day, and one gets the impression that whatever their explanation, it will not be satisfactory. Doctor Clayton's song is an African American blues masterpiece, with gripping piano work and moody,
contemplative lyrics. Clayton points out how frustrating it is that the United States sold scrap iron to the Japanese for years before the embargo of 1940. The song also perpetuates the stereotype that the Japanese are not "hard fighters." By the end of the war, Americans would have to admit that the Japanese did indeed fight ferociously.
Perhaps the most frequently used rhyme in the anti-Japanese songs of WWII is that of rhyming "Jap" with "sap." The word sap has somewhat fallen out of use today, but it refers to someone who is a dupe, who is gullible and can easily be convinced to do the bidding of others. While it may be that the rhyme was obvious enough to provide an easy insult, it's also true that part of the American stereotype of the Japanese at the time was that they were not clever enough to have independently conceived of, or carried out a plot as big as Pearl Harbor. Indeed, radio commentary on the day of the attack revolved around speculation that the Japanese were actually doing the bidding of the Nazis, that the attack was part of Hitler's grand strategy to provoke the U.S. into declaring war on Germany. Rumors even surfaced, and were published in American Newspapers, that German ships and pilots had participated in the attack. More than half of Americans believed this myth until documents captured in Germany in May 1945 proved otherwise. The most ubiquitous use of "sap" was in the song, "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap." Written by James Cavanaugh, John Redmond, and Nat Simon, it was recorded by Carl Hoff on December 23, with vocals by The Murphy Sisters, and by Dick
Sheet Music: "You're a Sap, Mister Jap" (1941)
Sheet Music: "You're a Sap, Mister Jap" (1941)
"You're a Sap, Mr. Jap" by Carl Hoff & the Murphy Sisters (1941)
sound "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap" by Carl Hoff & the Murphy Sisters (1941)
"You're a Sap, Mister Jap" by Dick Robertson (1942)
sound "You're a Sap, Mister Jap" by Dick Robertson (1942)
"You're a Sap, Mr. Jap" Popeye Cartoon (1942)"You're a Sap, Mr. Jap" Popeye Cartoon (1942)
Robertson on January 9, 1942. Two notable lines also convey another common anti-Japanese attitude, that they were errant, diminutive children who had incurred the parent-like wrath of America:

You're a sap, Mr. Jap, you make a Yankee cranky
You're a sap, Mr. Jap, Uncle Sam is gonna spanky


The song was also featured in a Popeye cartoon by the same name in 1942, produced by Famous Studios.
"You're a Sap, Mr. Jap" was one of the first songs written after Pearl Harbor. Another, written on December 7, was Sam Lerner's, "The Sun Will Soon Be Setting (For The Land of The Rising Sun)". While Lerner gets credit for being the first to use Japan's motto of "The Land of The Rising Sun" against her (as well as the first to strike a blow for Capitalism), he also gets credit for what is perhaps the most ludicrous of all WWII rhymes:

They came while we slumbered like a thief in the night
But their days will be numbered by the mighty right of our dynamite
A more intriguing song was "

The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam." Written by Yip Harburg and arranged by Burton Lane, it was perhaps a little ahead of its time by
"The Sun Will Soon Be Setting (For The Land of The Rising Sun)" by Frankie Masters (1941)
sound "The Sun Will Soon Be Setting (For The Land of The Rising Sun)" by Frankie Masters (1941)
"The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam" by Carl Hoff & the Murphy Sisters (1941)
sound "The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam" by Carl Hoff & the Murphy Sisters (1941)
acknowledging that, though America is a country of many different factions, those factions set aside their differences when it comes to national pride and defense. It was written in December 1941 and recorded by Carl Hoff, with vocals by The Murphy Sisters. The song was featured as the finale in Panama Hattie (1942), the film version of the Cole Porter musical.
"There'll Be a Little Smokio In Tokio" by Don Baker (c. 1942)
sound "There'll Be a Little Smokio In Tokio" by Don Baker (c. 1942)
"Bomb Tokyo" by Music Operator Band (c. 1942)
sound "Bomb Tokyo" by Music Operator Band (c. 1942)
Though the Japanese started the war, one of the common themes in WWII music is that it would be America who would finish it. A few songs were quite prophetic. One of these is the amazingly racist "There'll Be A Little Smokio In Tokio," performed by Don Baker. The AHC could not find a release date for this Continental recording, but it seems likely to have been before the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942, when there was indeed a little smoke over Tokyo. That smoke would pale in comparison to the amount that would be generated in 1945 when the city was firebombed several times by American war planes. Another song The AHC was not able to find the recording date for is "Bomb Tokyo" by Music Operator Band. This too was likely recorded before the Doolittle Raid, as it makes reference to Americans fighting in the Philippines.
Another prophetic song was "They Started Somethin' (But We're Gonna End It!)." Written in December, 1941, it was recorded by Kate Smith on December 16 and contained these lyrics:

Oh! They started somethin'
But we're gonna end it
Right in their own back yard!


Of course, America did end the war with the dropping of the two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945, and August 9, 1945, respectively.
Sheet Music: "They Started Somethin' (But We're Gonna End It) (1942)
Sheet Music: "They Started Somethin' (But We're Gonna End It) (1942)
"They Started Somethin' (But We're Gonna End It) by Kate Smith (1942)
sound "They Started Somethin' (But We're Gonna End It) by Kate Smith (1942)
 
Reaction: National Readiness and Mobilization
One of the more infectious melodies of the entire War was the song "Goodbye Mama (I'm Off To Yokohama)", in all of its variations. Written by J. Fred Coots, it contains a few of the cleverer rhymes. While many a song came up with obvious rhymes for the word "Jap," Coots was a little more ambitious with his rhyming of "mama" with "Yokohama," and especially with this one:

A million fightin' sons-of-Uncle Sam, if you please, Will soon have all those Japs right down on their Japa-knees

"Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" by Frankie Masters (1941)
sound "Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" by Frankie Masters (1941)
"Good-Bye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" by Teddy Powell (1941)
sound "Good-Bye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" by Teddy Powell (1941)
"Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" by Dick Robertson (1941)
sound "Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" by Dick Robertson (1941)
Many artists recorded "Goodbye Mama," with several variations in lyrics; including Frankie Masters, Teddy Powell, Dick Robertson, Duke Daly, Art Jarrett, and Orrin Tucker.

The remaining songs below all cover the concepts of national readiness and mobilization in some way. Though many of them are patriotic in nature, the AHC made the decision to create a separate section for WWII songs that emphasize patriotism over all other subjects. These last few songs were all written within a few months of the Pearl Harbor attack and seem to have been written in response to that singular event, rather than the war as a whole.
"Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama) by Duke Daly (1941)
sound "Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama) by Duke Daly (1941)

sound "Get Your Gun And Come Along (We're Fixin' To Kill a Skunk)" by Carson Robison (1941)
 
Sheet Music: "America We Are Ready" (1942)
Sheet Music: "America We Are Ready" (1942)
Sheet Music: "Let's Go!! Let's Get Started Today!!" (1942)
Sheet Music: "Let's Go!! Let's Get Started Today!!" (1942)
Sheet Music: "Tell Them All In Tokio We're Coming" (1942)
Sheet Music: "Tell Them All In Tokio We're Coming" (1942)
Sheet Music: "We Will Fight For Uncle Sam" (1942)
Sheet Music: "We Will Fight For Uncle Sam" (1942)

sound
"'Here I Go To Tokio' Said Barnacle Bill The Sailor" by Carson Robison, (1942)
"The Yanks Are Comin' Again" by Frankie Masters (1942)
sound "The Yanks Are Comin' Again" by Frankie Masters (1942)
"This Time" by Kate Smith (1942)
sound "This Time" by Kate Smith (1942)
"Ev'ryone's a Fighting Son of That Old Gang of Mine" by Dick Robertson (1941)
sound "Ev'ryone's a Fighting Son of That Old Gang of Mine" by Dick Robertson (1941)
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home" by Glenn Miller (1942)
sound "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" by Glenn Miller (1942)
 
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