Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Friday, March 20, 2009

"God Bless Her" - Echoes of SJI in a WW1 song

Buried on the 348th page of American Air Service historian Edgar S. Gorrell's book Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919 (stored at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration - NARA) is a song with some resemblance to "St. James Infirmary." Gorrell assembled a few pages of songs enjoyed by the World War One airmen. These words introduce this section of the document (obviously written by someone with less than expert proficiency on a typewriter):

"One of the pleasantest recollections which the officers of the Ninetieth will carry with them from France back to the States is of the convivial evenings spent in the mess hall after the dinnerplates had been removed, cigarettes and Pierson's cigars lighted, and the cares of the day forgotten. With Conover at the head of the table leading the songs, assisted by Rohrer's dramatic tenor and Lakes melodious bass, the hours passed quickly. Sweethearts gone but not forgotten and the ties which bound us to the Ninetieth were the favorite but by no means the exclusive themes of our songs.

"We were particularly fortunate in having not only a glee club of such high ability, but also writers of such merit as Capt. Schauffler and Harvey Conover proved to be. Yet this collection does not pretend to be comprised of exclusively original songs. We have disregarded all copyright laws both as to words and music. For some of our songs we owe a debt of gratitude to the Ambulance Corps. Others will be recognized as mere naked parodies on well-known college songs. Our object has been merely to make a collection which would in future years refresh our memories of those merry evenings at Souilly and Bethelainville, and incidentally preserve from oblivion the genius of our aviator poets."

The song, "God Bless Her" looks as if it had been cobbled together, perhaps using the refrain of "St. James Infirmary" as its inspiration. This is one of the few concrete references to SJI that precede the 1920s. I am convinced there were many variations about, some of them probably quite daring - but these fell by the wayside, forgotten, after Irving Mills secured the copyright.

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