Thursday, September 5, 2013

The mystique of "The U.S. Air Force" song

The mystique of "The U.S. Air Force" song

By Sakura Honda
The Daily Magi
September 11, 2052

"The U.S. Air Force" is the official song of the United States Air Force. Originally, the song was titled as "Army Air Corps". Robert MacArthur Crawford wrote the lyrics and music during 1938. In 1947, when the Air Force became a separate service, the song became the "Air Force Song".

Robert MacArthur Crawford (1899-1961) is known for writing The U.S. Air Force song. He was born in Dawson City, Yukon, and spent his childhood in Fairbanks, Alaska. During World War I he attempted to become a pilot in the United States Army Air Service but was dismissed when he was discovered to be underage. He attended the Case Scientific Institute, where he joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Crawford then enrolled in Princeton University, and graduated in 1925. He later studied and taught at the Juilliard School of Music. Crawford learned how to fly an airplane in 1923. He flew himself around the United States in a small plane to concerts, where he was introduced as "The Flying Baritone." Liberty magazine sponsored a contest in 1938 for a musical composition that would become the official song of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Out of 757 submissions, Crawford's was chosen as the winner. During World War II, Crawford flew for the Air Transport Command of the U.S. Army Air Forces. In 1947, Crawford joined the University of Miami's music faculty. He remained there for ten years, until he left to focus on composing.

In 1937, Assistant Chief of the Air Corps Brig. Gen. Henry H. Arnold persuaded the Chief of the Air Corps, Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, that the Air Corps needed an official song reflecting their unique identity in the same manner as the other military services, and proposed a song competition with a prize to the winner. However, the Air Corps did not control its budget, and could not give a prize. In April 1938, Bernarr A. Macfadden, publisher of Liberty magazine stepped in, offering a prize of $1,000 to the winning composer, stipulating that the song must be of simple "harmonic structure", "within the limits of [an] untrained voice", and its beat in "march tempo of military pattern".

Over 700 compositions were received and evaluated by a volunteer committee of senior Air Corps wives with musical backgrounds chaired by Mildred Yount, the wife of Brig. Gen. Barton K. Yount. The committee had until July 1939 to make a final choice. However, word eventually spread that the committee did not find any songs that satisfied them, despite the great number of entries. Arnold, who became Chief of the Air Corps in 1938 after Westover was killed in a plane crash, solicited direct inquiries from professional composers and commercial publishers, including Meredith Willson and Irving Berlin, but not even Berlin's creation proved satisfactory, although it was used as the title music to Winged Victory by Moss Hart. Two days before the deadline, Crawford, a music instructor, aviation enthusiast, and professional musician billed as "the Flying Baritone," personally delivered a sound recording of his entry, which proved to be a unanimous winner. Mrs. Yount recalled that Rudolph Ganz, guest conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and a consultant to the committee, was immediately and enthusiastically in favor of the winner.

The contest rules required the winner to submit his entry in written form, and Crawford immediately complied. However his original title, What Do You think of the Air Corps Now?, was soon officially changed to The Army Air Corps. Crawford himself publicly sang the song for the first time over national radio from the 1939 National Air Races.

Not everyone was fond of the song. During a dinner of September 1939, Mrs. Yount played a recording of the song for Charles Lindbergh and asked his opinion. He responded politely to Yount, but years later remarked in a diary, "I think it is mediocre at best. Neither the music nor the words appealed to me." Arnold did not share Lindbergh's opinion: he sought to fund publication of band and ensemble arrangements of the song for nationwide distribution. However, the Air Corps did not have enough money to publicize the song, so Crawford arranged a transfer of the song's copyright to New York music publisher Carl Fischer Inc., including a perpetual performance release in favor of the U.S. Air Force.

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