Music of the late 1890s played a significant role in the war effort during the Spanish-American War. Patriotic marches and sentimental songs romanticized the war and rallied Americans behind the cause.
One hundred years ago, songwriting and singing were vital parts of American popular culture. Pianos and sheet music were fixtures in middle and upper class homes, and songwriters were celebrities. Advertisements for sheet music filled magazines, and public singing was quite common. In the 1890s, singing and dancing defined a U.S. cultural identity.
During the Spanish-American War era, songwriters played a role somewhat akin to that of the yellow journalists. Just as newspaper stories promoted the war, popular songs celebrated the war by honoring its heroes and victories. Songs like Brave Dewey and His Men and The Charge of the Roosevelt Riders lauded war heroes Commodore Dewey and Theodore Roosevelt. Other songs, like Ma Filipino Babe and The Belle of Manila, sentimentalized the struggles abroad and romanticized the idea of intervention. Even songs like The Black KPs, which are racist and offensive to modern ears, were intended to rally the U.S. public behind the war effort.
By celebrating characters like Teddy Roosevelt and lamenting scenes like the Maine's explosion, 1890s song brought the drama of the war into living rooms, parlors, and dancehalls across the United States. Ultimately, these patriotic songs made being patriotic popular. Like television today, songs of the Spanish-American War era not only entertained and celebrated, but also shaped popular opinion.
Visit the 1890s Sheet Music Gallery where you can view the colorful sheet music covers, listen to popular songs of the Spanish-American War era, and read 1890s sheet music.
Content by Great Projects Film Company, Inc. Copyright © 1999