'Let's All Be Americans Now': Patriotism, Assimilation and Uplift in American Popular Song of World War I

Jane K. Mathieu


This article explores the ways in which multiple recordings of Irving Berlin, Edgar Leslie and George Meyer’s ‘Let’s All Be Americans Now’ highlight different messages of patriotism, assimilation, and uplift in the United States at the beginning of World War I. During the years before the United States’ entry into the conflict, discussions about the nature of American identity and the proper performance or display of that identity became a central political and social issue. These discussions were particularly directed towards new American immigrants whose loyalties were frequently questioned.
At the same time, recordings of Tin Pan Alley songs had become popular commodities separate from their sheet music counterparts. In order to differentiate different recordings made by different labels, musicians and producers employed a number of techniques including: additional instrumental sections, the inclusion of barbershop quartets and Sousa-esque band orchestration and, most notably, formal interruptions of the notated song structure with musical allusion to or direct quotation of popular patriotic songs.
This article examines ‘Let’s All Be Americans Now’ by deploying contextualized comparative analyses of multiple versions as a way to engage with the discourse of Americanness and immigrant identity. Ultimately, the variation between multiple recorded versions of the song function as a lens by which we may view greater negotiations of the individual within the larger national identity, specifically within the context of patriotism, assimilation, and uplift


Phonograph; Uplift; Assimilation; American Identity; Tin Pan Alley

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ISSN: 1836-8336