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Collection Andre Kostelanetz Collection

USO Tours and War Effort

Andre Kostelanetz felt a strong need to contribute to the American war effort during World War II. As he wrote in Echoes: "To the question, what should my contribution to the war effort be, the answer was obvious: make as much music as I could in as many places and as often as possible." (p. 98)

He and his wife, Lily Pons, toured combat areas twice under USO auspices: the Persian Gulf Command and North Africa and Italy from May to August 1944 followed by India, Burma, China and the European theater from December 1944 to March 1945. Kostelanetz relished being of service and bringing music to the troops despite the many challenges of performing in war zones.  Flutist Frank Versaci joined Kostelanetz and Pons on both tours; piano accompaniment came from Caroline Gray on the first tour and Ted Paxton on the second tour.

Kostelanetz's notes and diary entries from the China-Burma-India tour record his unending effort to obtain the number of string players he believed necessary to present the sound his audiences expected. Local ensembles and military bands often formed the basis of the orchestras. Kostelanetz would add players found in military units in the area for one or several performances and endeavor to keep them as long as possible. Although Kostelanetz expected much from himself and his musicians, as the diary shows he and his performers adapted to the uncertainties and disappointments they faced including illness, poor travel conditions, and cancelled performances. The diary also covers in detail the sights and sounds of the countries in which the troupe traveled.

On the home front Kostelanetz gave concerts across the United States and Canada. Even before war was declared in the US he supported the Canadian effort by conducting for a number of CBC Canadian War Savings shows.

In late 1942 Kostelanetz began programming Americana, military-themed, and patriotic music on his weekly radio show. Music included "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer;" service branch salutes with songs such as "Anchors Aweigh" and the "Marines' Hymn;" Russian folk songs (in honor of our Soviet ally); songs celebrating resistance movements in occupied countries; Irving Berlin medleys such as "This is the Army," "I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen," etc.; and Kostelanetz's "American Overture" (cowboy and folk songs and spirituals) and "Prairie Serenade". On the first anniversary of the declaration of war he programmed service songs.

Kostelanetz also participated in patriotic or war support programs such as the 1942 radio play "This is War! United Nations" which was intended to dramatize and interpret the wartime resources and activities of the United States.

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Materials on this site that document the USO tours include a typescript of Kostelanetz's CBI diary and handwritten excerpts, a recording of a performance in Germany, short snorters, photographs, programs, concert materials including song lists and a script, a list of war time concerts, and Kostelanetz's Cincinnati Conservatory commencement address.