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Sheet Music

There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding

MSS 18, the Zo Elliott Papers

Zo Elliott (music) and
Stoddard King (words)
“There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding”
(London: West Publishing, 1913)

 “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding,” was composed here at Yale, in Connecticut Hall, when Zo Elliott (Yale Class of 1913) and Stoddard King (Yale Class of 1914) collaborated on it so that they might attend, all expenses paid, the Zeta Psi banquet in Boston in the spring of 1913. The “lugubrious ditty” (as King styled it) went over well—the Zetes stopped throwing bread, listened attentively, and joined in the final chorus. Elliott tried to find an American publisher, to no avail. Later, while studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, he met Claude Yearsley, owner of West Publishing Co., who published it at the end of 1913, although Elliott’s mother had to pay for half the cost of publication. Elliott wrote that the song first attracted widespread attention when “a boatload of Canadian soldiers sang it coming down the Thames from a Sunday outing.” Soon it was picked up by others, and British Tommies marched off to war with it and sang it constantly, while waiting in the trenches and going “over the top.” 

Eventually, its success was such that the American publisher M. Witmark & Sons took interest. It sold well in the United States from 1915 through 1919, achieving the number 6 ranking in sheet music sales in October 1916, and number 3 in March 1918. Yale awarded it the Vernon Prize “for the best poem expressive of Yale ideals, life, and associations” in 1918, the first time a popular song had received the award.
In a recording of the service at the Albert Hall in London on the 9th anniversary of the Armistice, following a speech by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), one can hear ten thousand British veterans singing this song. The song became popular again during World War II, and performed by The King’s Men in For Me and My Gal, starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, in 1942. In subsequent years, it has often been emblematic of the First World War music in television, film, and documentaries. Comments on YouTube document that people first learned this song through shows such as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (as heard by Snoopy, the WWI flying ace) and M*A*S*H. More recently, commemorative services held in Ypres,Belgium, on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, July 30, 2017, featured “There’s a Long, Long Trail.”

“The Long Trail March: Founded on Zo Elliott’s Famous song, ‘There’s a Long, Long Trail’”<br />

MSS 18, the Zo Elliott Papers

Zo Elliott
“The Long Trail March:
Founded on Zo Elliott’s famous song,
‘There’s a Long,
Long Trail,’”
arranged by J. Ord Hume
(London: West & Co., 1916)

 This piano arrangement, The Long Trail March, shows the cover used by West Publishing Co., modified to show a line of marching infantry, and with a three-color cover in khaki, black, and white. The original cover, in two colors, showed a solitary hiker, and can be seen on the video monitor. West also published The Long Trail Waltz for piano. The Zo Elliott Papers also preserve orchestral and band arrangements, published by West for the British market and by M. Witmark and Son for the American and Canadian markets.

"He Was a Soldier from the U.S.A."

MSS 129, World War I Sheet Music

Howard Kocian (music) and
J. Fred Lawton (words)
“He Was a Soldier from the U.S.A.”
(St. Louis: Buck and Lowney, 1914)

It may seem surprising that this song dates from 1914, three years before the United States entered the War, until one realizes it is about an immigrant to the U.S.A., returning to fight for his native land. The cover shows the flags of seven nations—the song lyrics do not specify which country the boy is fighting for. But the cover and the text also make clear that the United States is a land of peace and freedom. The lyrics express the theme of separation from loved ones and sacrifice: in the first verse the boy leaves his “gray-haired mother” and sweetheart on the pier, promising to return. In the second verse, the boy lies dying on the battlefield. The chorus closes with mother and sweetheart “dreaming … of the battle ground and the boy from the U.S.A.” The music quotes from the bugle call “Reveille” in the introduction, and changes meter to a “March time” in 6/8 in the chorus, beginning with a quotation from “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground,” a popular Civil War song.

“I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier”

MSS 129, World War I Sheet Music

Al Piantadosi (music) and
Alfred Bryan (words)
“I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier”
(New York: Leo Feist, 1915)

 This was one of the first anti-war songs and it was very popular. It helped win supporters to the pacificist cause, including women suffragettes.

Both the music and lyrics open with a quotation from “The Minstrel Boy to the War has Gone,” but the sentiment of the lyrics, like the title, are definitely against war:

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
Who may never return again.
Ten million mothers' hearts must break
For the ones who died in vain…

I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother's darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
It's time to lay the sword and gun away…

The war years saw an increase in marketing and music sales, as a successful song could realize $100,000 in profits for the publisher. In addition to printing colorful sheet music covers, music publishers also paid singers to “plug” songs in vaudeville theaters, burlesque theaters, and music halls. The singers’ names and photographs were then printed on the cover. Our sheet music cover shows singer Ed (Eddie) Morton, also known as “The Singing Cop,” but there are at least nine different covers with other performers.

These marketing tactics were successful: “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” was in the top 20 charts in sheet music sales from January through July 1915, reaching number one in March and April, and selling 650,000 copies. The song also provoked many responses later on, including “I’d Be Proud to Be the Mother of a Soldier” (1915), “I’m Going to Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier and a Credit to the U.S.A.” (1916), “America, Here’s My Boy” (1917), “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Slacker” (1917), and, more humorously, “I Didn’t Raise My Dog to be a Sausage” (1915).

"Over There"

Ms40, Vocal Sheet Music Collection

"Over There" "Over There"

George M. Cohan
“Over There”
(New York: Leo Feist, 1917)

When the United States entered the war, sheet music and recordings became a form of propaganda for the war effort. On April 7, 1917, the day following the signing of the War Declaration, George M. Cohan sat down and composed “Over There.” He took the beginning of the tune from the bugle call “Reveille” and the opening words “Johnny get your gun, get your gun” from an 1886 song title, and by the next morning the song was completed. It wasn’t registered for copyright until June of that year, but within a month the sheet music was in the Top 20 chart. It was the most successful song of World War I, rising to Number 1 in the charts from August 1917 through January 1918. More than 2 million copies of sheet music and 1 million recordings were sold. The song was originally published by William Jerome, but Leo Feist bought the copyright, advertising on sheet music and in The Saturday Evening Post that he had paid the highest price ever for a song, the sum of $25,000. In 1936 Cohan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for this song and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

Copies of the song with three different covers are preserved in the Vocal Sheet Music Collection. They show an original printing, with Nora Bayes, who first introduced the song, on the cover; an early Feist copy, with a cover by Albert Wilfred Barbelle, a prolific cover artist whose career spanned four decades; and cover art by Norman Rockwell, who was just beginning a long career as an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. Early recordings feature Enrico Caruso, Nora Bayes, The American Quartet, and the Peerless Quartet. The artist in our recording, Arthur Fields, made recordings with many bands and labels between 1918 and the early 1940s, and was also a composer and lyricist.

"Let's All Be Americans Now"

MSS 129, World War I Sheet Music

Irving Berlin, Edgar Leslie & Geo. W. Meyer
“Let’s All Be
Americans Now”
(New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1917)

Irving Berlin's "Let's All Be Americans Now" represents another effort to win popular support for the war by appealing to the public’s sense of patriotism. The recording is from February 28, 1917, shortly before war was declared, as can be heard in the lines “We’re not looking for any kind of war, but if fight we must….” The lyrics also appeal to Americans of origins on both sides of the war: “England or France may have your sympathy, or Germany, but you’ll agree, that now is the time to fall in line. You swore that you would, so be true to your vow, let’s all be Americans now.” After the United States entered the war, “We’re not looking for any kind of war” was changed to “Now that war’s declared, We’ll show we’re prepared” and the reference to Germany became “over the sea.”

“Your Lips Are No Man’s Land but Mine”

MSS 129, World War I Sheet Music

Charles R. McCarron and
Carey Morgan (music) and
Arthur Guy Empey (words)
“Your Lips Are No Man’s Land but Mine”
(New York: Jos. W. Stern, 1918)

 Arthur Guy Empey (1883–1963), was the best-selling author of the autobiographical Over the Top and other books based on his war service. Empey, a former cavalryman, was working as a recruiting sergeant in New Jersey when he learned of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. He immediately went to London and volunteered, eventually serving at the Battle of the Somme, where he was wounded. After being discharged, he returned to the U.S., and wrote his reminiscences of the war, Over the Top. It was published just as the United States declared war, so the American public was hungry for information about the war in Europe. The success of the book (which sold a quarter-million copies) led to a Vitagraph Feature Film of the same title, with a screenplay co-written by Empey and starring Empey himself in the leading role. The film’s added plot, involving German spies in America and the rescue of an American girl behind German lines, with an airplane, seemed a bit over the top even in April 1918. 

The song “Your Lips Are No Man’s Land but Mine,” and two others (“Liberty Statue is Looking Right at You” and “Our Country’s in It Now, We’ve Got to Win It Now”), were released to help promote the film. We see Sergeant Empey on the cover, as well as Grace LaRue, who introduced the song on stage. The juxtaposition of the title of this song “Your Lips Are No Man’s Land but Mine,” and the publisher’s claim that it is “A Real Romantic War Ballad” sends the mind reeling today. The lyrics are about as romantic as the title: “an anthem of love and trench warfare,” in the words of one commentator. In a 1918 recording, Albert Campbell and Henry Burr sing it straight, even though the text is comical –after farewells at a pier, parted lovers signaled (“wig-wagged”) to one another by semaphore, with “two flags she had made of flannel” as the ship sailed away. The chorus concludes “Across the foam in No Man’s Land I’ll soon be fighting, But I know your lips are no man’s land but mine.” But this is characteristic of Empey, who told grim stories with humor, taught Americans how the war was being fought, and that it was all right to be afraid.

One further note: the covers of Empey’s sheet music direct the publisher to “pay all royalties earned from the sale of this song to the New York Sun Smoke Fund.” The purpose of the fund was to provide cigarettes to soldiers, to help relieve the stress of war. Empey enlisted in the U.S. Army after his book came out and was sent around the country to lecture and raise money for war bonds. Many composers and lyricists did similar things to help the war effort, in addition to creative contributions. As examples from our exhibit, Horatio Parker diverted his English royalties to an English charity (a music fund which put on concerts for military camps, hospitals and factories) and Charles Ives helped sponsor drives to sell Liberty Bonds and tried to enlist as an ambulance driver.

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