Editor, Webmaster: Phil Cartwright Editor@earlyjas.org
|The V-Disc Story
|Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning for
Jazz Advancement and Socialization
“This is Teddy Wilson. We’re mighty glad the Music Section of the Special Services Division is
making these V-Discs, because it gives us a chance to play a few selections for you.” Spoken introduction
on V-Disc 16A, the Teddy Wilson Sextet doing “How High the Moon,” which was the first V-Disc live recording
What’s a V-Disc, why and how were they made, and who were the performers? The story begins in July of
1940. War clouds were looming, and the US Army formed a special Morale Branch, with the initial purpose of
bringing entertainment to the troops. In the branch were two sections, the Radio Section, and the Recreation and
Welfare Section. It was from these sections that two of the major morale builders of WWII grew: the Armed
Forces Radio Service (AFRS) and the V-Disc program.
Captain Howard Bronson was assigned to the Recreation and Welfare Section, which marks the beginning of the
Music Section within R&W. Captain Bronson was both a line and staff army officer – and a musician. His first
project was to begin a program of recording military music for the military. One of the men who joined Bronson
was Lt. George Robert Vincent, whose knowledge of recording began with his work with Thomas Edison in
recording and sound research.
In the Radio Section, the AFRS was producing 16” 33 1/3 records for radio program rebroadcast to the troops,
which was very successful. Prior to AFRS, the Radio Section shipped a “B” kit overseas, which consisted of
shortwave radios , wind-up and electric record players, 10” shellac 78s and 33 1/3 transcription of radio shows
(this grew into the AFRS).
In July of 1942, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), demanding royalties for each record and/or
transcription sold by the record companies, went on strike. This strike lasted two years, and no new records were
released during that period, or shipped in the Radio Section’s “B” kit. With no new records available, written
requests began to pour in for new sounds, which led to the musical question: how about a special recording project
to answer the demand?
Enter Lt. Vincent, whose post-Edison career had continued in recording. While Bronson was interested in the
idea, he had no available funds for the program. Vincent had a chance meeting with Major Howard Haycraft, the
Army fiscal officer, and lost no time in presenting the idea of recordings for the troops. Not only was Haycraft
interested, he found $1,000,000.00 in immediately available money, and thus was born the V-Disc! The Victory
Disc (or was it the Vincent Disc?).
“’Sunday, Monday and Always.’ That’s a long time, fellows, but we’re with you every single minute. Give me four,
Teddy.’” Spoken introduction by Mildred Bailey on V-Disc 105B, with Teddy Wilson on piano.
How were V-Discs made and distributed? The first major hurdle was to get by the AFM recording ban.
James C. Petrillo, leader of the AFM was approached, and was more than agreeable to cooperate for the war
effort. Not only did Petrillo agree to the making of V-Discs, but he released his union members to perform for the
V-Disc personnel, and to volunteer their services with no remuneration. In return, he requested that all masters and
records be destroyed at the end of the program, to which Special Services agreed and complied. V-Disc had
multiple sources for music, among them masters from commercial vaults, radio broadcasts and special recording
sessions (emphasis mine). Then, agreements were reached with pressing plants: RCA Victor, Columbia, World,
Clark Phonograph Co. and Scranton Record Co. All pressings were shipped to RCA Victor in Camden, NJ, for
distribution on a monthly basis.
After assembly, shipments were made to eight ports of embarkation. Upon arrival, the shipments were sent to
the headquarters of the theaters of operation around the world. A Special Services OIC (officer in charge) then
distributed the packages to military units. From that point on, no records of distribution were kept. By the end of
the program (May, 1949), over 8 million records containing 2700 cuts had been shipped!
“Hello, fellows, this is Muggsy. We’re making some Dixieland V-Discs for you. Hope you enjoy them. If
you do, just write in and we’ll make some more for you. Thank you very much.” Spoken introduction by
Muggsy Spanier on V-Disc 507A, “Jazz Me Blues.”
Who cut V-Discs? Who didn’t? The V-Disc program brought the best of American music and musicians to GIs
world-wide. Classical, Broadway, swing bands hot and sweet, vocalists, country, comedy, blues, jazz combos –
you name it, it was released on the V-Disc label. Of particular note to collectors are the V-Disc original sessions,
bringing together jazz men for a specific purpose - record a V-Disc – and live radio broadcasts, both of which
brought improvisation of the moment to the listener and now collector. With over six minutes of playing time on a
12” vs. the 10” 78 at three minutes +, the boys could really stretch out on their solos. One of the men who joined
the staff and later became a major chronicler of the Swing Era was George Simon. It was he who engineered some
of the really great live recording sessions to be heard on V-Disc. Among the many jazz notables released on the
label are: Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Gene
Krupa, Bobby Hackett, Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Nat Cole, Fats Waller,
Ella Fitzgerald, Bunk Johnson – and the long list of greats goes on, beyond the scope of this article.
The US Government did live up to the agreement with Petrillo, and the masters were destroyed, and they tried to
destroy the records as well. Fortunately, there was a complete set of V-Discs at the Library of Congress, and many
records were kept by recipients, so today we can enjoy the incredible output of the V-Disc program, and the great
America rallied behind the war effort 100% and its combined output is to this day to be marveled at, whether it was
planes, ships, weapons and munitions – or music for the troops in the field. The V-Disc is a little-known but great
story of WWII, and one truly appreciated by the recipients – the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, all who served
their country well in a time of global turmoil.