Monday, August 31, 2009

We'll Meet Again . . . Again!

UPDATE: AND AGAIN! 09/13 -- Sweet! The Telegraph reports that Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces' Sweetheart, has now hit Number One on the Album charts in Great Britain -- at 92, she is obviously the oldest person to have ever achieved such an honor, for her recent CD release, We'll Meet Again - The Very Best of Vera Lynn.

From the story by Ben Leach:
The 92-year-old has now usurped Bob Dylan as the oldest artist to grace the number one position after her album We'll Meet Again - The Very Best of Vera Lynn went straight to the top of the charts.

Her album outsold artists including the Arctic Monkeys, Jamie T and the Kings of Leon, and beat The Beatles' much-hyped remastered editions.
Update: 09/14 -- Mark Steyn weighs in on this remarkable story of a lady whose song became an upbeat war anthem for the British. Written in 1939 by Hughie Charles and Ross Parker. He describes how it came to be recorded by young Vera Lynn.
Its slightly stodgy optimism is quintessentially British. In that summer of '39, they passed it to the bandleader Ambrose, who'd taken on a young singer called Vera Lynn. She'd sung with the Charlie Kunz orchestra and had made a solo record of a leaden novelty called "Up The Wooden Hill To Bedfordshire". But Hughie Charles considered Vera "a very nice kid" and thought "We'll Meet Again" would be right for her. So Ambrose worked up an arrangement and, as Dame Vera told me a few years back, audiences responded to it immediately, and it quickly became her sign-off song - especially when she landed her own BBC radio show a few months into the war. "We'll Meet Again" made Vera Lynn a star.
The irony was, as you'll learn from the recent BBC interview below, Vera Lynn thought sure the outbreak of war, 70 years ago this month, would spell the immediate end of her brief 15 year career. (That's right -- she had begun singing in clubs at age 7!) So with that brief taste of Mark's new post, here's hoping you'll read the entire thing. That was just a teaser. Mark's post is simply indispensible for a full understanding of the musical history setting.

(Our original post from August 31st) -- The Daily Mail reports that the World War II "Forces' Sweetheart," Vera Lynn is back on the British music charts with a "best of" CD, at the tender age of 92, and breaking her way into the Top 20! Likewise, it is reported by the Times OnLine. UPDATE: A BBC interview with her about it.

The following are the opening few grafs of the Daily Mail story, "Dame Vera Lynn storms into the top 20 with her CD of timeless tunes - making her more popular than rockers U2"

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 1:43 AM on 31st August 2009

Dame Vera Lynn yesterday became the oldest living artist to make it into the Top Twenty.

At the age of 92, she entered the albums chart with We'll Meet Again - The Very Best of Vera Lynn.

The album was released to coincide with the 70th anniversary on Thursday of the declaration of war.

Entering the charts at number 20, she overtook U2, the Stone Roses and Eminem.

A spokesman for her record company Decca said: 'She has proven that music of this vintage and significance can still resonate with the British public.'

The forces sweetheart kept up the spirits of millions of Britons with her songs and personality during the Second World War.
. . . .

Dame Vera Lynn was one of the truly great inspirational stars during World War II, who frequently entertained the troops in the field throughout the war, and often at personal risk.

In her case, Vera was already a veteran of that role when the United States actually entered hostilities in December of 1941, having also had a radio series beginning in 1940 called "Sincerely Yours."

She even undertook a trip to Burma, described in a book review of her newest memoir, Some Sunny Day.
At her own request she went to Burma, travelling on troop ships, in army trucks and on military aircraft. She doesn’t seem to have minded the discomforts at all. She’s almost cheerful when recollecting how she’d scoop her food "from under the solid layer of flies".

Lynn entertained audiences of thousands in the humidity and blazing heat, yet what she never forgot was that "what they needed was a contact from home rather than a concert".
UPDATE: In a very recent interview with the BBC, (ht: Peter at Bayou Renaissance Man) just a week ago on August 24th at the National Theater, Vera said, when asked, that the trip to Burma was the one memory of hers that really stood out. (Please watch. It is a wonderful video and interview, but embedding has unfortunately been disabled.) Here is how she responded to the BBC interviewer:
"For me, my visit to Burma, to be with the boys that were fighting out there because they were the 'forgotten 14th'** and it was wonderful to be able to actually be there and sing some of the songs, and take a little bit of home for this is what they wanted."
Back in February of this year, an article in the Guardian about the upcoming release of her latest memoir also noted the remarkable honor accorded her in the year 2000 --
"In 2000, a nationwide poll voted her the person who "most represents the spirit of the last century". No names were suggested to those taking part in the survey, but she won 21 per cent of the votes."
This lovely lady earned the affections of all of the Allies, one of the heartiest and bravest generations of all time. Anywhere. Ever.

One of her songs, and a title track on her new album, was the 1939 hit, "We'll Meet Again," (lyrics by Hughie Charles, music composed by Ross Parker) and a film by the same name in 1943, in which Lynn starred as singer named "Peggy Brown."

The song expressed in a simple way the enduring hope of returning that each soldier, sailor or airman embraced, as they went off to war. It also spoke to the emotions that their loved ones no doubt felt as well -- the hope that they would return alive.

Lynn recorded a whole series of songs over time, but if there was one that was her signature song it was that 1939 classic. Here is an extraordinary and rare recording of her singing the song to -- and as you can hear with -- the RAF.

There is no specific date indicated in this video, which was posted at YouTube last year by someone with the screen name and Channel, Old Shep80YearsOld.* But the track clearly reflects the early, almost quaint state of the audio technology at the time. And it also reflects the enthusiasm of the British flyers for her, and for this song.

A few examples of other songs she popularized at the time were her 1940 recording of, "The White Cliffs of Dover," an adapted Spanish song, in 1941, entitled "Yours," "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square," and another 1941 song, "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire." Toward the end of the war, she recorded, "When The Lights Go On Again."

During the 1950s, Vera Lynn became the initial trend-setter here in the United States for a generation of British musical stars to follow. She was very popular with American audiences. One of her songs of that era was, "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart."

To me, one intriguing thing about the song "We'll Meet Again," that may have lent to its immense popularity, was that it cleverly turned back on itself right in the lyrics . . . as if it was timeless!

And so it was . . . and so it is!
. . .
So, will you please say hello,
To the folks that I know,
Tell them I won't be long.

They'll be happy to know,
That as you saw me go,
I was singing this song!
. . .
Few people today appreciate how much we all owe to folks like this wonderful and courageous lady. Let's just hope that her revival in Great Britain will trigger a corresponding fond recollection of her contributions here in the United States.

Her version was later (1964) featured in what was viewed as an ironic juxtaposition with exploding nuclear weapons at the end of the Stanley Kubrick film, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

Here was Vera Lynn at the age of 77, singing a few of her standards, including "We'll Meet Again," on board the QE2, some 15 years ago in 1994, during the 50th anniversary commemoration ceremonies of the D-Day landing, June 6, 1944. Her husband, musician Harry Lewis, died a few years later in 1998. They were married way back in 1939.

Recently, she made a bit of news herself, raising a few questions regarding what the current fight is about in Afghanistan. Well, if she stirs up a bit of controversy, good for her. She's certainly entitled.

Regardless, it is surely some sunny day!

# # # # #

* The channel indicates his name is Theo, from the Netherlands, who is now 81 years old. He has posted several WW II era clips on his channel, OldShep80YearsOld at YouTube.


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At 5:14 PM, September 02, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great lady!

Even today, with all the praise and all the honors that have quite deservedly come her way, you can see from the two short interviews that she is simply without any airs about her. And, yet she is fully aware of the extraordinary historical role she played. I guess that is what you call "bearing."

Look at all those old soldiers at the National Theater! They know how important she was. And they adore her.

Like so many of her generation, she clearly took to heart Sir Winston's stirring character call to arms at the very end of his preparation for war speech in the summer of 1940 - when he implored the people to so bear themselves, that if Britain lasted a thousand more years, men would look back and "still say 'This was their finest hour."'

And you can be sure that when they do, her voice, and the strains of "We'll Meet Again," will be liltingly playing in the background.


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