Star Spangled Lyrics: The Cultural and Historical Importance of Analyzing Popular American War Songs

By Erin R. McCoy.

Published by The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

When studying a country’s national cultural history, confining one’s research to literature, anthropological studies, and historical documents reveals a limited space of knowledge that hinders proper understanding of a culture or nation. An often overlooked and undervalued method of gaining deeper insight into cultural history is through close readings of popular song lyrics composed by a country’s artists. Treating lyrics as poetry, and thus giving lyrics the same literary critique as we do poetry, allows us to reap a broader picture of the general cultural mood of an era; by incorporating lyrical study alongside disciplines of cultural history, such as philosophy, historiography, biography, etc., we can allow that music lyrics render a better-shaped vision of the cultural past.
This relies on a synthesis of historical resources concerning United States’ history with its art, and thus presents a historiography of the United States’ national identity in regard to war. The aim of this presentation is to trace prominent ideological themes from war-based songs composed throughout U.S. history so that we can see the full cultural importance of the anti-Vietnam War movement, as well as many other important American and global cultural upheavals, for more than just moments of cultural history or romanticized decades. This presentation incorporates close readings of various U.S. war-based song lyrics – beginning with the Revolutionary War and moving through the American Civil War, World Wars I and II to the Vietnam War – within each song’s respective historic context. The fusion of historical awareness and music can inform us not only of our cultural identity, but also as to how we arrived at the lasting American ideology that carries and influences our national values into our future.

Keywords: United States History, Music Lyrics, War and Music

The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp.31-51. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 383.341KB).

Dr. Erin R. McCoy

Ph.D. Candidate, Humanities Department, Indiana University Southeast, Jefferson Community and Technical College, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA

Erin R. McCoy is a Ph.D. candidate in humanities at the University of Louisville. Her primary work focuses on analyzing musical lyrics and their relationship with U.S. history, particularly the Vietnam War era. She holds a graduate certificate in Latin American and Latino studies from the University of Louisville, with a concentration on cultural performances of national identity in Latin America. She holds an MA in English from Clemson University, for which she composed a thesis of short fiction pieces, and a BA in English from Wingate University. She has been teaching at the college level for over seven years, and currently teaches freshman composition and business writing courses as associate faculty at Indiana University Southeast and Jefferson Community and Technical College.