In April 1945 VE Day was on the horizon, but victory in the Pacific was still a ways away. In an effort to keep the American public buying War Bonds after victory in Europe, the US Treasury Department set up the “Mighty Seventh War Loan” drive. The slogan “Now—all together” as well as the central theme of the Iwo Jima flag raising, were used to appeal to a sense of patriotism in a final push against the Japanese. In fact, the three surviving members of the six man team who raised the flag at Iwo Jima were spokesmen on the 7th War Loan tour. But the US Treasury Department had another way to appeal to the American public—Duke Ellington.
Duke Ellington, the Harlem-By-Way-Of-DC big band leader who is now known as one of the most important jazz composers, was at the height of his fame and popularity in 1945 (though musical trends would soon shift to smaller bands and solo vocalists). His iconic Black, Brown and Beige jazz symphony had been released in 1943, and in 1944 he wrote one of his most popular songs, “I’m Beginning To See The Light.” The US Treasury Department saw Ellington’s fame as a way to reach the general public, so they contracted Duke and his Famous Orchestra to perform a series of public service broadcasts over the Blue Network (NBC) on Saturdays.
During these 55 minute programs, Ellington performed a wide array of material, from his older work to his new instrumentals. The series was launched on April 7, 1945 while the band was performing at the 400 Restaurant in NYC, and included both musical segments from Ellington and calls to buy more War Bonds. Below, listen to Ellington remind his audience that buying War Bonds is an easy way to help the country:
Some of our wounded veterans, spending long days and nights on hospital beds, might be thinking that it’s easier to buy War Bonds than it is to fight. And if they are thinking that, they are right. We don’t have to hide in foxholes. We don’t have to bomb Tokyo. We don’t have to spend our lives shut up in submarines. All we have to do is lend our money to our country, so let’s keep right on doing it. Buy War Bonds, and buy more bonds. The war with Japan has been long and tough; our part towards victory is the easy part. So friends, keep buying War Bonds, and hang onto them.
Visit WWII & NYC for more about War Bond drives, and don’t forget to tell us your story! To listen to Duke on the radio, check out the compilation The Treasury Shows, Vol. 10. And thank you to Clarence Irving, a wartime employee of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for telling us about these Treasury broadcasts. You can hear Irving talk about his wartime experience here.