Over there, over there!
Send the word, send the word, over there!
George M. Cohan, a successful Broadway producer, playwright, performer, lyricist and composer, wrote "Over There" on his way into work. The headlines that inspired him the morning of April 6, 1917, were not ordinary. They announced that the U.S. had abandoned its isolationist policy and entered World War I on the side of the Allied Powers against the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire).
Cohan’s gingery song took its opening verse "Johnny, get your gun" from a popular American song published in 1886. He based his music on a three note bugle call. Although Cohan tested the song on a group of military men at Fort Meyers, Florida, without much success, the general public loved it.
"Over There" was first performed publicly in the fall of 1917 by Charles King at a Red Cross benefit in New York. But it was the popular singer and comedienne Nora Bayes who made the song famous. Cohan, it is said, personally chose her to premiere his song on stage. Bayes also recorded "Over There" for the Victor Talking Machine Company on July 13, 1917 (in a 78 rpm format). Other of Bayes’ contemporaries who recorded the song include the operatic tenor Enrico Caruso and recording artist Billy Murray. By the end of the war over two million copies of sheet music of the song were sold.
President Wilson described "Over There" as "a genuine inspiration to all American manhood" and Cohan remained unwavering in his patriotic fervor. However, a significant number of artists and performers grew increasingly disillusioned with a war in which 9,000,000 individuals lost their lives (117,000 of whom were Americans). Thus Cohan’s work was contrapuntal to the edgier music produced by performers such as James Reese Europe and Noble Sissle who drew on their direct experience of war’s brutality to develop works such as "On Patrol in No Man's Land" recorded for Pathe in March, 1919.
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