World War II

Just before Christmas 1941, Johnny and Ginger were listening to the radio when a report came that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Soon afterwards the United States entered World War II. Johnny wanted to help the war effort, but he also wanted to avoid the draft. Due to his fame and many talents, the army sought him out to promote the war and raise moral through music. Like many other Hollywood stars, he entertained troops stationed on the West Coast. Through the Armed Forces Radio Service, which broadcasted to troops stationed all over the world, Johnny and others provided music and shows that were meant to remind troops of home and inspire patriotism.

USO Club, St. Mary’s Catholic School Dance (2), 1941. From the Georgia Historical Society, Foltz Photography Studio Collection (Savannah, Ga.), photographs, 1899-1960, 1360-22-26-05.

USO Club, St. Mary’s Catholic School Dance (2), 1941. From the Georgia Historical Society, Foltz Photography Studio Collection (Savannah, Ga.), photographs, 1899-1960, 1360-22-26-05.

During the war, Johnny began writing songs about the soldiers’ experiences. His ability to replicate languages and dialects helped him capture military lingo.

This is the G.I. Jive,
Man Alive,
It starts with the bugler
Blowin’ reveille over your head
When you arrive.

Johnny’s music during this time period reflected many changes in American society that were necessitated by the war effort. He wrote lyrics for many of the songs in the patriotic ensemble movie Star Spangled Rhythm, which featured a desegregated cast of both black and white actors. Though the messages in his lyrics were subtle and meant to promote national unity, they represented great strides in changing the notorious racism of Hollywood at the time.

Johnny also used his lyrics to recognized changing social and gender norms brought on by war. His song “On the Swing Shift” (also from Star Spangled Rhythm) was one of the first to discuss women working in factories during wartime. He also wrote many songs about long distance romance between soldiers and civilians.


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