“Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?” World War I Recruitment Songs in Los Angeles

by Jonathan L. Friedmann

The United States was slow to enter World War I. President Woodrow Wilson’s Democrat Party was staunchly antiwar, and war planning was anathema to most Americans, despite the urging of prominent “warmongers,” among them former president, Theodore Roosevelt.(1) Outside of Anglophile circles, which advocated early support for Britain, America was gripped by a sentiment of neutrality.(2)

The nation’s attitude shifted with Germany’s escalating aggression, including submarine attacks on American merchant ships in the North Atlantic and an intercepted German telegraph detailing plans to help Mexico reconquer territories in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in exchange for a Mexican attack on the U.S.(3)

When President Wilson finally asked Congress to approve a “war to end all wars” on April 6, 1917, the U.S. military was still almost at peacetime levels, both in terms of size and preparedness.(4)

Wilson initially hoped to rely on volunteer soldiers, but lackluster enlistment forced Wilson and Congress to institutee the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917, requiring all males aged 21 to 30 to register for military service. The law was amended in August 1918, expanding the draft to men aged 18 to 45.

All told, approximately 2 million men volunteered to serve in the existing branches of the armed forces (mostly in the Navy), with another 2.8 million serving through the draft by the end of the war.(5)

Songs to Aid Recruitment

From the outset, recruitment songs were used to aid enlistment. The songs, ranging from ballads to marches, spread ideals of a homeland worth defending, proud mothers sending their sons off to war, sweethearts waiting faithfully for their men to return, old-fashioned patriotism, and a war that would be easily won.

Propaganda songs had long been an effective mainstay of America during wartime. Abraham Lincoln reportedly told George F. Root, composer of “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators” to advance the Union cause.(6)

One such song debuted in Los Angeles shortly after the U.S. declared war. The sentimental march, titled “Is Your Blood Red, White, and Blue?,” was penned by Abraham F. Frankenstein, a Jewish bandleader and composer best known for writing the music for California’s state song, “I Love You, California” (1913), and lyricist William R. Cushman, a fellow Angelino with no other published musical credits.(7) Katherine F. Gauss, a Massachusetts-based writer, described the recruitment song in her travelogue, Golden Days in the Golden West (1917).(8)

Frankenstein’s Is Your Blood Red White & Blue

Music in War Time

American songwriters and publishers drummed up support for the war through catchy, prideful songs of battlefield bravery, homeland loyalty, and enemy degradation. Often collaborating directly with the U.S. government, publishers fed sheet music to hungry household pianos, spreading pro-war messages throughout the citizenry.

Between mid-1914 and mid-1919, some 35,000 American patriotic songs were copyrighted, of which 7,300 were published and made available to the public.(9) The Library of Congress list from 1917-18, which includes “Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?,” records roughly 3,000 patriotic songs published during that timeframe. (10).

War songs came in six types: cheer-up songs, ballads, marches, comedic songs, appeals for support, and victory songs.(11) Prior to America’s entry into World War I, these were joined by anti-war songs, such as “Our Hats Off to You, Mr. President” (1916), which praised Wilson’s campaign promise to keep America out of the war.

Even Irving Berlin, who would go on to write “God Bless America” (1918)—the all-time patriotic standard—wrote the pacifist song, “Stay Down Here Where You Belong” (1914).(12)

“I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier,” subtitled “A Mother’s Plea for Peace, respectfully dedicated to every Mother—everywhere,” urged mothers to unite in putting an end to war. The song sold 650,000 copies in 1915, helping the pacifist movement become a “quantifiable political reality to be reckoned with.”(13) Anti-war songs fell out of fashion after April 1917. The U.S. government banned “peace songs” in 1918 and restricted the types of songs that could be sent to soldiers overseas. (14)

On the home front, Tin Pan Alley promoters hosted song competitions in theaters, where audiences voted for their favorite war songs.(15) Daily newspapers advertised patriotic sheet music, samples of newly published songs appeared in Sunday supplements, and the government’s Committee on Public Information supplied music hall audiences with patriotic songbooks.(16)

Is Your Blood Right, White and Blue?

Katherine F. Gauss depicted military recruitment in Los Angeles in her book Golden Days in the Golden West, a “flying glimpse” of daily life in the American West and Canada.(17) Gauss, who wrote for the Salem Evening News, was a self-described “sob sister”: a female journalist who wrote articles with sentimental appeal. Her chapters on Southern California, which take readers through the Mohave Desert, Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Diego, highlight spring fashions, gardening spots, local happenings, and “exotic” scenery sure to excite the women of Massachusetts. The report from Los Angeles was especially “written for the women of Salem to show what is going on in Los Angeles, the busiest, largest city of Southern California, which at present is in the wave of preparedness on every subject imaginable.”(18)

Writing in April 1917, Gauss naturally focused on women’s involvement in the war effort: “Women are volunteering in every service for which they may be useful, while classes in telegraphy, wireless, stenography, cooking and the like, are filled to capacity.”(19)

Recruiting stations were opened for volunteer nurses willing to go to France. At the Pike in Long Beach, women were trained to take the place of men at amusement booths, as the public would “not tolerate the presence of an able bodied young man at these resorts, when a woman [could] just as well fill his place.”(20)

Women members of the Red Cross organized fundraising parties, and five wealthy women contributed an ambulance apiece to be sent to France. Filled with pride of country and of womanhood, Gauss declared: “The magnificent power of woman labor is sweeping into organized efficiency, ready for the call to be of service to the country.”(21)

Gauss also described an unusual scene involving a new recruitment song, “Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?” Uniformed soldiers cruised the city streets “in automobile trucks with piano attached, singing [the song] and distributing literature.”(22) The tactic proved effective. City doctors kept busy administering screenings and physical examinations. Roughly eighty percent of the men examined were approved for enlistment.(23)

Published in Los Angeles in 1917, “Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?” is a typical Tin Pan Alley-style march, complete with major key, single voice line, short piano introduction, and verse-chorus form (with the requisite 32-bar chorus).

Marches, with their strong regular beats and historical association with military bands, were long used as effective vehicles for wartime propaganda. John Philip Sousa, “The March King,” affirmed:

“A march stimulates every center of vitality, wakens the imagination and spurs patriotic impulses which may have been dormant for years. I can speak with confidence because I have seen men profoundly moved by a few measures of a really inspired march.”(24)

The message of “Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?” draws from standard patriotic themes: bravery, the melting pot ideal, Uncle Sam, the superiority of democracy, and, of course, the colors red, white, and blue. With the latter theme, it joined “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean” (“The Red, White, and Blue”) (1843), once considered the unofficial U.S. national anthem, George M. Cohan’s classics “Yankee Doodle Boy” (“I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”) (1904) and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” (1906), Robert Levenson and E. E. Bagley’s “That’s What the Red, White, and Blue Means (To Every True Heart in the U.S.A.)” (1918), and numerous other songs showcasing the color scheme of the American flag. The cover illustration for “Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?” reinforces the song’s title with a bald eagle surrounded by clusters of red, white, and blue ovals, presumably representing blood cells.

The song aims to convince the able-bodied male listener that enlistment is the only way to prove his patriotism.

VERSE 1

We come of ev’ry creed and race, of ev’ry shade and hue
But when we’re thru the melting pot, we’re Yankee thru and thru.
The time is now, the place is here, to show what you can
And Uncle Sam must learn at once that your blood’s red, white and blue.

CHORUS

So follow in the footsteps of the minute men
And the boys who fought ‘round eighteen sixty-two
The call to arms has sounded: enlist at once and then
Your country’ll know your blood’s red, white and blue.

VERSE 2

The world’s ablaze with lurid war our forebears never knew
And days and weeks and even months are few so very few
For plodding preparation by each regiment and crew
Of men whose ev’ry drop of blood is good red, white and blue.

VERSE 3

Democracy must triumph lest autocracy we rue
Of Czars and such this earth for us can never have too few.
Remember “now” means right away, mañana’ll never do
And Uncle Sam “now” wants to know that your blood’s red, white and blue.(25)

Abraham F. Frankenstein

Abraham Frankenstein

The music for “Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?” was written by Abraham Frankum Frankenstein (1873-1934), a leading figure in Los Angeles entertainment.(26) Born in Chicago to Prussian Jewish immigrants, Frankenstein was a gifted violinist from his youth. At age fifteen, he played concerts under the West Chicago Park Commission.(27) He attended Chicago public schools and Saunders College, studied violin with Simon E. Jacobsen and Adolf Rosenbecker at Chicago Musical College, and studied cornet with Alfred F. Weldon and James Llewellyn.(28) Before setting out on his own, Frankenstein led the string section of the Illinois National Guard Band (Second Regiment), under Weldon, and played violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Rosenbecker.

Frankenstein married his first wife, Illinois native Loretta Langdon, in 1892, and became music director of the Lyceum Theatre in Memphis the following year.(29) He directed the Empire Theatre orchestra in Quincy, Illinois during the 1894-95 season, and was concert master with the Grau Opera Company in 1896-97 and the Calhoun Opera Company in 1897-98.

Frankenstein’s first visit to Los Angeles came in January 1897, during Grau’s two-week engagement at the Los Angeles Theatre (later renamed the Lyceum Theatre). He returned a year later for a three-day engagement with the Calhoun Opera Company.(30) Shortly thereafter, Gustav Walter, a vaudeville impresario and proprietor of the Orpheum Theatre Circuit, asked Frankenstein to be the musical director of the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, located on South Main Street. He accepted the offer on March 1, 1898, forming the city’s first permanent theater orchestra. He held the post for thirty years.

Silverwood’s I Love You California

In 1913, Frankenstein partnered with lyricist F. B. Silverwood, founder of Silverwood’s men’s clothing store, to write “I Love You,California,” which professes boundless love for the Golden State and its many natural attractions.(31) Like most songs coming out of Los Angeles at the time, “I Love You, California” was born of commerce.

The promotional tone struck a chord. News and Notes of California Libraries (1914) reported that 200,000 copies of the song were “distributed all over the world, while 4,000 orchestras [were] using the band arrangement.”(32) It was played aboard the S.S. Ancon, the first ship to sail the Panama Canal in 1914, and was the official song of the 1915 San Francisco Exposition (Panama-Pacific International Exposition), a world’s fair that simultaneously celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake.

The song was also featured at the 1915 San Diego Exposition (Balboa Park, Panama- California Exposition), which touted San Diego as the first U.S. port of call for ships traveling north after passing westward through the Canal.(33) The California Legislature adopted “I Love You, California” as the state song in 1951, declaring that it “truly expresses the sentiments and feelings of California’s native and adopted sons and daughters, young and old.”(34)

Sales figures and performance history are unavailable for “Is Your Blood Red, White and Blue?” Perhaps, as Gauss described, the song was mainly played by recruiters from pianos on truck beds. The sheet music was self-published by Cushman, the lyricist, further indicating its purpose for the local campaign.

Frankenstein only wrote four copyrighted songs, although he likely composed several unpublished tunes and arrangements for the Orpheum orchestra. The four published songs share a promotional purpose. “I Love You, California” touted the state. “Is Your Blood Red, White or Blue?” aided the war effort. “Hawaiian Blend March” (1901), which Frankenstein arranged for band and piano, advertised the newly annexed Territory of Hawaii (1898). “Golden West Commandery March” (1925) was an ode to Golden West Commandery No. 43, Knights Templar, one of a number of fraternal organizations Frankenstein was involved with.(35)

Epilogue

American losses during World War I were far fewer than those of other combatant nations. According to one estimate, the French, British, and Germans lost 34, 16, and 30 men per 1,000, respectively, compared to American losses of just one per 1,000.(36) This is due primarily to America’s late arrival in Europe, and the slow training, transport, and build-up of American troops. The U.S. did not contribute much to the Allies until late spring and summer 1918.

When the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918, the U.S. had fought in only thirteen major battles. Of the 4.7 million American men who eventually served, more died from disease (63,114) than from combat (53,402), mostly from the influenza epidemic.(37)

Soldiers who returned home found a country saturated with carefully crafted, government-sanctioned, commercially distributed patriotism. The music industry churned out patriotic songs throughout the war. War profiteers—including songwriters, music publishers, and performers—amassed great fortunes, increasing the number of millionaires in the U.S. by four thousand during the war.(38) Patriotic messages were not only good propaganda, but also good for business.


Endnotes [Click Here]


About the Author

Cantor Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D., is Professor of Jewish Music History at the Academy for Jewish Religion California and Historical Music Editor for Western States Jewish History. He is the author or editor of nineteen books, including Jews, Music and the American West: Portraits of Pioneers (Gaon Books, 2016) and A City Haphazard: Jewish Musicians in Los Angeles, 1887-1927 (Academica Press, 2017).


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