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Songs from World War I come alive again in KC

Updated: 2013-02-08T04:43:50Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

George M. Cohan’s “Over There” was not the only song from World War I.

There was also Irving Berlin’s “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning (Till the Boys Come Home)” and “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm.”

Original sheet music and other items documenting the music from the First World War are the subject of a new exhibit opening Saturday at the Liberty Memorial. “Harmonies of the Homefront” is in Memory Hall, the eastern building atop the memorial deck.

Sheet music was a hot cultural medium of the day, and the covers were often like miniature propaganda posters. “Over There” featured a Norman Rockwell illustration.

The songs evoke the era: “K-K-K-Katy,” “Hello Central, Give Me No Man’s Land” and “It’s A Long Way to Tipperary.”

Just about any of it could be purchased at the old Jenkins Music Co. store downtown, the facade of which survives on Walnut Street.

Most of the music in the exhibit is American, but there is also the sheet music from the British “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile.” The Doughboys called them haversacks.

Visitors to the exhibit are welcome to sit down at a 1912 piano and play from copies of original sheet music. You can also listen to digitized versions of a dozen or so songs.

The guest curator is Kristin Griffeath, an assistant professor of music at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, whose thesis was “War Sirens: How the Sheet Music Industry Sold World War I.” She will lecture on the subject at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s a different kind of exhibit for us,” said Doran Cart, senior curator at Liberty Memorial. “We’re trying to showcase the encyclopedic nature of our collection by bringing out the scope of the war effort. Not just the munitions but also these remembrances of the soldiers and things like that, that are represented in the music. It’s such a good place, this hall, especially, to put it in because it is called Memory Hall. The music does evoke the memories of a bygone era.”

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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