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Memory Kits: Music of the 1940s

Memory kits are for people with dementia, memory loss, or cognitive impairment. They are intended to stimulate conversation or reminiscence with a person with cognitive issues

Music of the 1940s

Woody Guthrie - "This Land is Your Land" (1940)

Woody Guthrie, the composer of "This Land Is Your Land," was one of the most influential voices in the entire American folk music tradition. His personal and musical styles were deeply influenced by his childhood in rural Oklahoma during the Great Depression years, which led him to a hobo life-style, a powerful dislike of greed, and a deep appreciation for the diversity of America's everyday folk.

In February 1940, Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" in reaction to Irving Berlin's song "God Bless America." Guthrie heard Berlin's song repeatedly while he traveled cross-country and became increasingly annoyed that it glossed over the lop-sided distribution of land and wealth that he was observing and had experienced as a child. Although Guthrie was no statistician his observations accurately reflected the fact that, even in the depths of the Depression, nearly 20 percent of the nation's wealth rested with one percent of its population.

Guthrie originally entitled his song "God Blessed America for Me," a line repeated at the end of each verse. By the time he first recorded the song with Cisco Houston, in April 1944, he changed the lines to "This land was made for you and me," which invokes the title by which his song has been known ever since -- "This Land Is Your Land." Amazingly Guthrie and Houston recorded over 160 songs during that prolific set of recording sessions. Since then "This Land Is Your Land" has been re-recorded by numerous vocal artists including: Bing Crosby, Judy Collins, Harry Belafonte, Fred Waring, Pete Seeger, and the Limeliters."; accessed September 22, 2022.' accessed September 22, 2022.

Glenn Miller - "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (1941)

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" is a 1941 song written by Mack Gordon and composed by Harry Warren. It was originally recorded as a big band/swing tune by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra and featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade.[3] It was the first song to receive a gold record, presented by RCA Victor in 1942, for sales of 1.2 million copies.[4][5]

The song was an extended production number in the 20th Century Fox film Sun Valley Serenade. The Glenn Miller recording, RCA Bluebird B-11230-B, became the No. 1 song across the United States on December 7, 1941, and remained at No. 1 for nine weeks on the Billboard Best Sellers chart.[6][7][8] The flip side of the single was "I Know Why (And So Do You)", which was the A side.

The song opens up with the band, sounding like a train rolling out of the station, complete with the trumpets and trombones imitating a train whistle, before the instrumental portion comes in playing two parts of the main melody. This is followed by the vocal introduction of four lines before the main part of the song is heard.

The main song opens with a dialog between a passenger and a shoeshine boy:

"Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?"
"Yes, yes, Track 29!"
"Boy, you can give me a shine."
"Can you afford to board the Chattanooga Choo Choo?"
"I've got my fare, and just a trifle to spare."[9]

The singer describes the train's route, originating from Pennsylvania Station in New York and running through Baltimore to North Carolina before reaching Chattanooga. He mentions a woman he knew from an earlier time in his life, who will be waiting for him at the station and with whom he plans to settle down for good. After the entire song is sung, the band plays two parts of the main melody as an instrumental, with the instruments imitating the "WHOO WHOO" of the train as the song ends."; accessed September 22, 2022.; accessed September 22, 2022.


Bing Crosby - "Swinging on a Star" (1944)

Written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, information below from "The songwriters were told to write a song for Bing's forthcoming movie, Going My Way, that amounted to the Ten Commandments with a rhythm section. Jimmy Van Heusen was stumped until he visited Bing's home and heard Bing ask one of his unruly kids, "Do you want to grow up to be a mule?". Bing recorded the result Feb. 7, 1944, with the Williams Brothers, among whom was 13-year-old Andy Williams, substituting for the Crosby sons. The brothers were paid $100 for their contribution to the recording that sold more than a million copies, and remained in the pop charts for 28 weeks, including 9 weeks atop the charts. The song won the Academy Award and in 2002 Bing's recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame."; accessed November 18, 2022.

Eddy Arnold - "Bouquet of Roses" (1948)

"Bouquet of Roses" is a 1948 song written by Steve Nelson (music) and Bob Hilliard (lyrics). It was originally recorded by Eddy Arnold and his Tennessee Plow Boys and his Guitar in Chicago on May 18, 1947. It was released by RCA Victor as catalogue number 20-2806 (in USA)[1] and by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalogue numbers BD 1234 and IM 1399. "Bouquet of Roses" was Eddy Arnold's third number one in a row on the Juke Box Folk Record chart and spent 19 weeks on the Best Selling Folk Records chart.[2] In 1949, when RCA Victor introduced its new 45 RPM single format this record was among seven initial releases (Catalog #48-0001) and the first in the Country and Western category. Arnold would re-record "Bouquet of Roses" several times during his career.

The song spent 54 weeks on the country music charts, accounting for the longest amount of time spent on that chart. The record held until September 2010, when it was broken by Lee Brice's "Love Like Crazy."[; accessed September 26, 2022.; accessed September 26, 2022.

Roy Acuff - "Tennessee Waltz" (1949)

Roy Claxton Acuff (September 15, 1903 – November 23, 1992) was an American country music singer, fiddler, and promoter. Known as the "King of Country Music", Acuff is often credited with moving the genre from its early string band and "hoedown" format to the singer-based format that helped make it internationally successful. In 1952, Hank Williams told Ralph Gleason, "He's the biggest singer this music ever knew. You booked him and you didn't worry about crowds. For drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God."[2]

Acuff began his music career in the 1930s and gained regional fame as the singer and fiddler for his group, the Smoky Mountain Boys. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, and although his popularity as a musician waned in the late 1940s, he remained one of the Opry's key figures and promoters for nearly four decades. In 1942, Acuff and Fred Rose founded Acuff-Rose Music, the first major Nashville-based country music publishing company, which signed such artists as Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers. In 1962, Acuff became the first living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame.[; accessed September 26, 2022.; accessed September 26, 2022.

The Andrews Sisters - "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy" (1941)

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is a World War II jump blues song written by Don Raye and Hughie Prince which was introduced by The Andrews Sisters in the Abbott and Costello comedy film, Buck Privates (1941).[1] The Andrews Sisters' Decca recording reached number six on the U.S. pop singles chart in the spring of 1941 when the film was in release. The song is ranked No. 6 on Songs of the Century. Bette Midler's 1972 recording of the song also reached the top ten on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song but lost to "The Last Time I Saw Paris".[2]

The song is closely based on an earlier Raye-Prince hit, "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," which is about a virtuoso boogie-woogie piano player.[3]; accessed September 22, 2022.; accessed September 222, 2022.

Peggy Lee - "Why Don't You Do Right?" (1943)

"Why Don't You Do Right?" (originally recorded as "Weed Smoker's Dream") is an American blues- and jazz-influenced pop song written by Joseph "Kansas Joe" McCoy in 1936. A twelve-bar minor key blues with a few chord substitutions, it is considered a classic "woman's blues" song and has become a standard.

Composition and lyrics

In 1936, the Harlem Hamfats recorded "The Weed Smoker's Dream". Band member McCoy later rewrote the song, refining the composition and lyrics. The new tune, titled "Why Don't You Do Right?", was recorded by Lil Green in 1941, with guitar by William "Big Bill" Broonzy. The recording was an early jazz and blues hit.

The song has its roots in blues music and originally dealt with a marijuana smoker reminiscing about lost financial opportunities. As it was rewritten, it takes on the perspective of the female partner, who chastises her man for his irresponsible ways and admonishes him to

Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too
One of the best-known versions of the song, Peggy Lee's, was recorded on July 27, 1942, in New York with Benny Goodman. It sold over 1 million copies and brought her to nationwide attention.[1] Lee often stated that Green's recording was extremely influential to her music. In a 1984 interview she said "I was and am a fan of Lil Green, a great old blues singer, and Lil recorded it. I used to play that record over and over in my dressing room, which was next door to Benny's (Goodman). Finally he said, 'You obviously like that song.' I said, 'Oh, I love it.' He said, 'Would you like me to have an arrangement made of it?' I said, 'I'd love that,' and he did."; accessed September 26, 2022.; accessed September 26, 2022.

Glenn Miller - "In the Mood" (1944)

In February 1944, the Glenn Miller RCA Victor Bluebird 1939 studio recording of "In the Mood" was released as a V-Disc, one of a series of recordings sent free by the U.S. War Department to overseas military personnel during World War II. A second version recorded by Glenn Miller's Overseas Band in 1945, was released in May 1948. A new recording by Glenn Miller with the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (AEF) was broadcast to Germany in 1944 on the radio program The Wehrmacht Hour.[18]

This piece of music was not new in Europe. The first Swiss record of "In the Mood" were released in April 1940 by Teddy Stauffer und seine Original Teddies in Zurich.[19] Another interpretation was made by Ernst van't Hoff in February 1941 in Berlin.[20]; accessed September 26, 2022.; accessed September 26, 2022.

Ella Fitzgerald - "I'm Beginning to See the Light" (1945)

"I'm Beginning to See the Light" is a popular song and jazz standard, with music written by Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, and Harry James and lyrics by Don George and published in 1944.

1945 recordings

  • Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots featuring Bill Kenny recorded a version in 1945, that was on the pop song hits list for six weeks in 1945, reaching #5.
  • A competing 1945 recording by Harry James and his Orchestra,[2] with lead vocal by Kitty Kallen reached No. 1 for two weeks in January of that year. James' version of the song reached No. 7 on Billboard's Second Annual High School Survey in 1945.[3]
  • Duke Ellington also released in 1945 a version, vocal by Joya Sherrill, which reached the top ten.[4]; accessed September 26, 2022.; accessed September 26, 2022.

Hank Williams - "Lovesick Blues" (1949)

  • Vaudeville pianist and Tin Pan Alley songwriter Cliff Friend wrote the melody to this tune in 1922 and the words were added by Irving Mills. The song was premiered in a musical about lonesome pilots, Oh, Ernest and first recorded by Elsie Clark. "I was a fighter pilot in the First World War at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. I was impressed by the lovesick boys who left their young wives and sweethearts for the service, blue," Friend later recalled. "I had been writing songs since I was 12. So I wrote 'Lovesick Blues.'"
  • In 1928 blackface minstrel Emmett Miller made the first recording of this song to feature a yodel. A decade later, country music singer Rex Griffin laid down another well-known version.
  • Inspired by Miller and Griffin's versions, Hank Williams performed the tune during his first appearances on the Louisiana Hayride in 1948. Receiving an enthusiastic reception from the audience, Williams decided to record his own interpretation.

    The young singer could only record songs published by Acuff-Rose, so Williams told Fred Rose that he had purchased the rights to "Lovesick Blues" from his drinking companion Rex Griffin. However they weren't his to sell and Acuff-Rose had to deal with a very cross co-writer Cliff Friend who did own the rights. "Fred Rose published it, but I had the copyright," Friend recalled. "When Williams' record hit the market, I flew to Nashville and took all the money, since I was also the publisher."
  • Billboard magazine reviewed Williams' version at the time as follows: "Hank's razz-mah-tazz approach and ear-catching yodelling should keep this side spinning."
  • Williams had earned four Top 20 hits by the time the song was released, but this became his first chart-topping hit reigning for sixteen weeks. Billboard named it the top "Retail Folk Record" of the year, and Cashbox named it "Best Hillbilly Record of the Year."
  • The song's success earned Williams invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. The singer performed the tune for his Opry debut on June 11, 1949. He created a sensation playing six encores to thunderous applause.