Lecture Review – “The Music of World War II” by Dr. Sheldon Winkler

At first I thought it unusual for a dentist to present a lecture on the music of the 1940s. Then I discovered that dentist was Sheldon Winkler. Appropriately enough, Dr. Winkler cut his teeth back in the early 1950s as the band leader for Sheldon Winkler and His Orchestra. While he didn’t share any of his chops with this audience he presented some great stories behind the great music of the Second World War. The Moorestown Library hosted his lecture on August 20th.

Dr. Winkler possesses tremendous range; well beyond that of most musicians. He previously served as the Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Prosthodontics and Dean of Research, Advanced Education, and Continuing Education at the Temple University School of Dentistry. Now he is Professor Emeritus at Temple University. Currently, he’s an Adjunct Professor at the School of Dental Medicine, Midwestern University located in Glendale, Arizona. The man doesn’t rest. I’d note that when he has time he delivers a lecture on music history that can’t be beat.

Dr. Winkler discussed the stories behind a number of war time classics. Some songwriters used their craft to convey a political point. He explained that Nat Burton wrote the lyrics for “The White Cliffs of Dover” to encourage American participation in the war. The speaker noted that the lyricist took some poetic license with the words. No bluebirds inhabit the United Kingdom.

Of interest to local historians, the professor talked about the local connection to some of the era’s most well-known tunes. A South Jersey clergyman inspired one of the war’s most popular songs. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Haddonfield resident Chaplain Howell Forgy issued the famous declaration, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” to his shipmates aboard the USS New Orleans. The expression inspired Frank Loesser to write the war time anthem of the same name.

Dr. Winkler endeavors to have an historic plaque placed on Chaplain Forgy’s Haddonfield home. His efforts are ongoing.

Any Philadelphia Flyers fan knows Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America.” Dr. Winkler shared the song’s origins. In 1938 Ms. Smith and her manager Ted Collins approached Irving Berlin. They asked him to write something she could use on her radio program. Mr. Berlin resurrected a tune he’d written during World War One, but never used. He modified it a bit and presented it to Ms. Smith. It became her signature song. Decades later it became a staple at the Broad Street Bullies’ home games.

During the Second World War a movement began to replace the “Star Spangled Banner” with “God Bless America” as the National Anthem. Dr. Winkler explained that it seemed Ms. Smith, Mr. Collins and Mr. Berlin the only people who opposed the change. With the global conflict raging, they didn’t believe it enough of a “war song.”

To borrow a quote from Rod McKuen, Dr. Winkler showed that, “1939 -1945 was a terrible time for the world, but it was a glorious time for songs.” His lecture also served as the most enjoyable hour I’ve spent in the presence of a dentist. The speaker based the talk on his book The Music of World War II: War Songs and Their Stories.

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