Popular Culture: Connecting to the Country

Mediums of popular culture like music, dance, film reels, and the radio promoted national unity and encouraged patriotism. Karl Brown, Jr. sang patriotic anthems in the school choir, Virginia Babbitt danced to her heart’s delight with soldiers at the USO, and Fenton Martin’s high school stage was graced by the presence of metropolitan musical personalities— all expressions and indicators of wartime morale. Newspapers also kept communities current on national and international developments, most notably—for Arnold Spicer—by printing maps of U.S. troop movements in the Sunday edition.

The USO Dances—Virginia Babbit

Oh, I just loved it because I just loved to dance. And that was when you were dancing—I don’t know whether y’all know that you could cut in, the boys could cut in. So you’d be dancing, and then another boy —sometimes you didn’t like it because you wanted to be dancing with that boy because some of them were really good dancers, you know. And I loved to dance. It was a lot of fun. And we would kinda sit down—it seems like to me that we would sit in chairs along the side, and then I guess the boys would come and ask you to dance. But I remember when I started dancing, I never sat down again. So I guess I just kept dancing. And they had really good bands.

Patriotism in School Music—Karl Brown, Jr. 

One of the many things that we had was a pretty good music teacher, choir director, and I think one of the things that happened maybe not every day but several times a week was you’d have a music session. So what were you singing? It was not Rock-n-Roll. It was by a little after Pearl Harbor certainly and probably before, it was patriotic songs in many cases. “Anchors Aweigh” didn’t date from Pearl Harbor, you know. It was a song we could sing. And so it goes. I don’t know what those songs all were, but you know those were the kinds of things that we would hear. And I think there’s a certain amount of conditioning in that. Wouldn’t that make sense?

Wartime Entertainment—Fenton Martin

I was on the stage crew at school. This was before electric stages at least down in little Portsmouth, Virginia. We had scenery that you had to take out of the storage room and hand carry it down a staircase and over to the stage. We had about a 500 person auditorium; it was the only one in town. [It was] one of the things that I did occasionally. Recording artists and other notables from as far away as New York would come down to Portsmouth and do their thing as a form of war time entertainment for service men and natives, whoever came to fill the auditorium. It’s ridiculous, but the only name I can remember is Richard Tucker who was an opera star in the Met at the time. But you got to know whoever they were because they would hire you to come in the night and do the necessary preparation and curtain work while they were going from the wings out and back, so on and so forth. So the point of that is the high school did offer its facilities to public events that would not have been there if it had not had been for the war.

Following the War with Maps of Europe—Arnold Spicer

Well, usually in the Sunday paper, there was always maps of activity that was going on here and there and everywhere else. Somehow or rather, I got a map of Europe. And to see where they were moving, I’d draw the lines on there. And ’cause it was a big map, about yea big, it covered up the kitchen table. I couldn’t leave it out so I had to take it back. And I was forever drawing lines where they changed, even I think it had the very Northern part of Africa, and that’s where the fighting was. Of course, as the troops moved up to Sicily and through Italy, of course Italy dropped out of the war shortly after Italy was invaded from the South. Then I followed it on that as it was going, of course it was better later on because all of the movement was toward Berlin and before that all of the movement was away from Berlin. So I think I got, matter of fact, I think I had so many marks on there, I got another map somewhere and started there. And I don’t know where they are now.