Harmonies of the Homefront
If you want to know a generation of Americans, then listen to the popular music they embraced in their youth. As surely as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” captures the spirit of the 1960s or as aptly as Madonna’s “Material Girl” embodies the essence of the 1980s decadence, so too does the music from 1914-1918 reveal the generation of Americans that fought—both at home and abroad—for victory in World War I.
To truly understand the soldiers, the war volunteers, and the families and friends they left behind, listen to the music that provided their soundtrack to the war.
The exhibition Harmonies of the Homefront highlights songs from the war from a variety of perspectives. Songs the soldiers sang and hits from the homefront tell the collective story of the American experience of the war, from the national debate over whether or not to enter the conflict (seen in titles like “I Didn’t Raise my Boy to Be a Soldier”) to the inevitable anxiety regarding how the soldiers would readjust to American life at the war’s end (in songs like “How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”
With an immediacy that no other artifact communicates, the music of the war voices that generation’s fear, hope, and often indomitable humor in the face of the great challenges of their day.
Colorful sheet music covers from the museum’s archives combine with historical recordings, creating a multimedia experience guaranteed to bring the history of the war to life.
Discover how music united public opinion in favor of the war, bolstered morale for soldiers abroad and citizens at home, and served as an integral part of military strategy. Visitors can even try out a few of the biggest hits on a period piano.
If “Over There” and “Tipperary” are the only war hits you know, then learn who “K-K-K-Katy” was, sing along to the strains of the melancholy “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” and go home humming the chorus of “Goodbye Broadway, Hello France.” What better way for the iPod generation to connect to history than to plug into and listen to the songs of the war? With songs ranging from the sentimental to the side-splittingly funny, this is one exhibit you won’t want to miss.
Included with Museum admission and free for members.
"My hope is that people coming to this exhibit will gain a sense of who
these Americans were. The songs echo across the almost one hundred years that separate these Americans from our generation, telling us why they fought, demonstrating how they maintained a sense of humor and patriotism in a time of great sacrifice and challenge, and voicing their concerns about how the war had changed the men and women who would return home. I can think of no better way to connect the iPod generation to this American history than to literally let them plug into and listen to the songs of the war."
- Guest exhibition curator Dr. Kristin Griffeath
Hear more about Harmonies of the Homefront on KCUR.org
Click to listen to a few popular WWI-era songs, thanks to Archive.org