Music History

There’s a lot of pandemic music these days. But what about music from the 1918-20 influenza outbreak?

We’ve seen the emergence of what some are calling “pandemic pop,” music that’s been made while in isolation or lockdown. It doesn’t have an identifiable sound yet, but the theme of many of this songs is based on the anxiety and uncertainty we’re all feeling these days.

This got me thinking. If artists are providing us with so much music during the coronavirus crisis, was there a similar flood of music 100 years ago during the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-20 that killed 50 million people worldwide?

Strangely, no. The horrors of the pandemic seemed to have been so great that society opted from collective amnesia about the period–at least as for as music goes.

Yes, the recorded music industry was still in its infancy, which could explain the dearth of influenza-related tunes, but given that music is always downstream from what’s happening in society, you’d think that a global health crisis would have resulted in songs about the problem. Yes, there were some classical pieces written the memory of some of the people who died, but as for popular songs in the mainstream, not so much.

My searching resulted in just two songs.

The 1919 Influenza Blues by Essie Jenkins

Although the title might make you think that the song was released while the pandemic was in full swing, it seems to have been recorded in the 1930s. The authorship of the lyrics is unknown, so they may have originated long before the song was recorded.

Jesus is Coming Soon by Blind Willie Johnson

Many thought that the word was coming to an end in 1918-19. Blind Willie was one of them.

And that’s all I could find. Anyone else know of any other pandemic songs from a century ago?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38321 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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