Magazine article America in WWII

The Years the Music Died

Magazine article America in WWII

The Years the Music Died

Article excerpt

The wartime US populace did not love James Petrillo. Many citizens thought the president of the American Federation of Musicians was personally depriving them of music to soothe their war-savaged breast. Writers at Time magazine seemed to be in competition to coin the most clever epithet for him: "the lordly boss of the A.F. of M.," "Protector Petrillo," and "Mussolini of Music," to name a few. The US Office of War Information called him a "czar."

Petrillo's offense? Ordering a ban on music recording. The contested issue was, of course, money, specifically the royalties musicians wanted to make on record sales. The union members voted for the strike, effective at midnight on July 31, 1942, but it was nonetheless widely considered Petrillo's handiwork.

With upwards of 140,000 musicians striking nationwide, not much recording got done, and the resulting dearth of records brought outcries from all corners of the nation. Edward Wallerstein, president of Columbia Records, said, "In a period when the spirit and morale of our nation need music, Mr. Petrillo's edict seems particularly ill-considered and ill-timed." The Office of War Information urged Petrillo to stop "depriving the entire American people." Federal agencies challenged him on anti-trust and labor-law grounds. The War Labor Board ruled that recording should recommence. Petrillo paid no attention. Even President Franklin Roosevelt entered the fray, but a letter he sent Petrillo failed to persuade. …

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