At the annual 4th Avenue Winter Street Fair in Tucson, Arizona this month, we came across this interesting publication in a thrift shop. The December 1956 issue of the Armed Forces Song Folio contains two songs by Dimitri Tiomkin.
The publication was prepared by the Adjutant General—the chief administrative officer–of the Army and issued monthly by the departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force of the United States of America. The folios were not available for sale and the songs were for use in Special Services Activities by military personnel only. The music was used in military “self-entertainment” programs such as soldier shows, U.S. civilian shows, and military bands’ performances that formed a large-scale troop entertainment system according to Heejin Kim’s dissertation on military band musicians during the Korean war.
Each monthly issue featured a cartoon drawing on the cover and more than a dozen songs. Through an arrangement with the Music Publishers of America the songs were given freely for military use. The music publishers donated the songs, minus their usual royalty fees.
The precedent for the Armed Forces Song Folio was the Army Hit Kit of Popular Songs, or Hit Kit, a song folio published by the Special Services Division, Army Service Forces, U.S. Army, that debuted in March 1943 during World War II. Although the songs were free, “The publisher’s did, however, charge for orchestral arrangements of the Hit Kit tunes,” notes Kathleen E.R. Smith in God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War.
The Army distributed both song folios and lyric sheets, and by 1944, around one in forty servicemen received Hit Kit. Songs were selected by a committee of entertainers. Each month the Army’s music section began with a list of 20 or 30 diverse songs that might include well-known standards, pop songs, marching songs, and comedy ditties. A “Committee of 25″ chaired by Fred Waring and made up of artists and entertainers including Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, and Bob Hope reviewed the list and made the final selections.
The Hit Kit was the Army’s own version of Your Hit Parade, patterned after the already successful armed forces radio show, The Army Hour,” writes Smith in “God Bless America.”
After 1950 the Army Hit Kit of Popular Songs transformed into the Armed Forces Song Folio and was published under that title beginning in January 1951.
The December 1956 issue pictured above contained a Christmas medley, four popular songs, and four songs from films. The Tiomkin songs are from Giant and Friendly Persuasion.
Above, compilation of Armed Forces Song Folios collected by vdiscdaddy and posted on YouTube.
Additional reading: Patriotism, the American Flag, and 1964
“‘Hit Kit’ Spells Post-War Music: 10 Million G.I.s Will Return Home Sheet Music Conscious Ready to Buy Things to Sing,” in The Billboard, February 19, 1944.
God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War, by Kathleen E.R. Smith, Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
Military Band Musicians on the Border: Crossing Over Musical Genres in the Transnational Space of the Korean War, by Heejin Kim, PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2013.