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Arts and Culture

Remembering World War I

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, many people scrambled to enlist in the armed forces to fight for their country. Among the people who enlisted were many artists, writers, musicians, and actors who already were or who would later become quite well-known. The 369th Infantry Regiment of the 93rd Division of the U.S. Army, also known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” was home to the “Hellfighters” Jazz Band whose members included James Reese Europe, Noble Sissle, and Frank DeBroit. This band bolstered the morale of the unit and brought the sounds of American ragtime to Europe during the war. The band went on to play an important role in the evolution of American jazz music after the war. Irving Berlin, already a well-known songwriter, was drafted into the army at the age of 30 to write patriotic songs. He wrote an all-soldier musical revue called “Yip Yip Yaphank.” He originally wrote the song “God Bless America” for that show, but decided not to use it until many years later. Many noted artists, such as Edward Penfield and Edward Buyer were commissioned to create war posters to publicize recruitment efforts and home-front activities. Horace Pippin, a Harlem Hellfighter who lost the use of his right arm fighting in the war, began painting to purge himself of the horrors he had witnessed in the war. He went on to become one of the foremost self-taught American artists of the 20th century. Joyce Kilmer, a noted American poet, gave his life fighting in the Great War. A young Humphrey Bogart, who found himself with few career options, enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of eighteen and was credited with being a model sailor. Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline series of children’s books served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the war.

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