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 session.
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
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), began 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
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 wasit the
“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
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 music recorded.
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