V-Disc

From Academic Kids

V-Disc was a record label produced during the World War II era by special arrangement between the United States government and various private U.S. record companies. The records were produced for use of United States military personnel overseas. Many popular singers, big bands and orchestras of the era recorded special V-Disc records. These 12-inch, 78 rpm gramophone recordings were created between 1943 and 1949. The "V" stands for "Victory".

The V-Disc project actually began in June 1941, six months before the United States' involvement in World War II, when Captain Howard Bronson was assigned to the Army's Recreation and Welfare Section as a musical advisor. Bronson suggested the troops might appreciate a series of records featuring military band music, inspirational records that could motivate soldiers and improve morale. By 1942, the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) sent 16-inch, 33 rpm shellac transcription discs to the troops, mostly radio shows with the commercials edited out.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of Musicians, under the leadership of James Caesar Petrillo, were involved in a major recording strike against the four major record companies. Thanks to the efforts of Lieutenant George Robert Vincent, On October 27, 1943, Vincent convinced Petrillo to allow his union musicians to record sides for the military, as long as the records were not offered for purchase in the United States. From that moment on, artists who wanted to record now had an outlet for their productivity - as well as a guaranteed, receptive, enthusiastic worldwide audience of soldiers and sailors.

The V-Discs were an instant hit overseas. Soldiers who were tired of hearing the same old recordings were treated to new and special releases from the top bands of the day. And such a varied selection - big band hits, some swing music, classical performances from the top symphonies, a little jazz here and there, even some marching music to keep Major Bronson happy. Radio networks sent airchecks and live feeds to V-Disc headquarters in New York. Some movie studios sent rehearsal feeds from the latest Hollywood motion pictures to V-Disc. Artists gathered at several V-Disc recording sessions in theaters around New York and Los Angeles, including CBS Playhouse No. 3 (currently the Ed Sullivan Theater), NBC Studio 8H (the current home of Saturday Night Live), and CBS Playhouse No. 4 (reborn in the 1970s as Studio 54). V-Discs were pressed by major civilian record companies like RCA Victor and Columbia Records.

Many V-Discs contained spoken-word introductions by bandleaders and artists, wishing good luck and prayers for the soldiers overseas, and their hopes for a swift and safe return. V-Discs also featured one-of-a-kind performances, as artists who were not shackled by restrictive record company contracts could now perform special versions of the 1940s' most popular hits.

V-Discs stayed in production until 1949, keeping soldiers stationed overseas as part of the Marshall Plan entertained.

After the V-Disc program ended in 1949, the Armed Services set out to honor the original AFM request that the records not be used for commercial purposes. Original masters and stampers were destroyed. Leftover V-Discs at bases and on ships were discarded. On some occasions, the FBI and the Provost Marshal's Office confiscated and destroyed V-Discs that servicemen had smuggled home. An employee at a Los Angeles record company even did some jail time - his crime was the illegal possession of over 2500 V-Discs.

But some clear heads surfaced above the madness. The Library of Congress has a complete set of V-Discs, and the National Archives did save some of the metal stampers. Today, several compilations of V-Disc records are now commercially available on compact disc collections.

Today, V-Discs are very collectible, with some titles by Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday garnering $50-$75 apiece.

See also

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