Johnnies, Tommies, and Sammies: Music and transnational identities

William Fordyce Brooks, Gayle Magee, Christina Bashford, Laurie Matheson, Justin Vickers

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Collaborative lecture-performance (90 minutes). Co-presented with Gayle Magee and Christina Bashford, with performances by Laurie Matheson, Justin Vickers, and myself.

Abstract: Among the many “special relationships” claimed by participants in World War I, pre-eminent was that among Britain, (Anglophone) Canada, and the United States. The three countries were interconnected legally and historically, and popular music had always been central to their cultural interactions. In 1915 each country stood in a different relationship to the conflict. Britain was directly involved and directly threatened; Canada, still a British colony, owed allegiance to the Crown but was three thousand miles removed; the United States was officially neutral but in practice supported the allies and (after the Lusitania incident) was increasingly inclined towards engagement. War-related popular music exchanged and performed in the three countries provides remarkable insights into their views of each other, themselves, and the conflict.

This multi-modal presentation offers an integrated discussion of songs written or popular in 1915. Titles from Britain (“Keep the Home Fires Burning,” “Pack up Your Troubles”) were exported to Canada and the U.S., where responses were created; in some cases (“Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers”) American popularity equalled or surpassed that in England. Hymns, national anthems, and popular music predecessors were appropriated in comments on the conflict that were sometimes wry (“The Greatest Battle Song of All”), sometimes sentimental (“Daddy, Don’t Let Them Shoot You”); close reading of the music itself discloses layers of reference that call up national identities in order to critique them. Songs appeared in different countries in parallel versions (“We’ll never let the Old Flag Fall”) that established affinities while confirming differences; Canada’s “Good Luck to the Boys of the Allies,” was both a model for U. S. publications and popular in its own right. Performers left their distinctive mark on recordings, which could differ from the sheet music (“America, I Love You”); and piano rolls, internationally distributed, inflected and mixed genres, reshaping ballads into marches and marches into ragtime. In all these ways, and more, musical alliances reinforced and sometimes anticipated political and military ones.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 15 Nov 2015
EventAmerican Musicological Society Annual Conference - Galt House Hotel, 140 North Fourth Street, Louisville, KY 40202, Louisville, United States
Duration: 12 Nov 201515 Nov 2015


ConferenceAmerican Musicological Society Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • world war I
  • transnational
  • performance
  • musicology
  • history
  • collaboration
  • allies
  • popular music

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