Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

What If They Gave A War And No One Came? Jonna Gault And Her Symphonopop Scene

The week ending January 27, 1968 — just days before Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive, a “watershed” moment” history would later show as having “played an important role in weakening U.S. public support for the war in Vietnam,” according to the U.S. State DepartmentBillboard and Cash Box would both review Jonna Gault‘s debut RCA single, “What If They Gave A War And No One Came?

Cash Box

January 27, 1968

Billboard deemed the “solid rock item” to be “impressive” and “loaded with sales appeal for today’s happening disk buyers,” while Cash Box identified the lyrics as “a high point in this magnetic selection which can be expected to take hold with teen listeners.”

The following week, Cash Box would announce (belatedly) that Gault had signed an exclusive recording contract with RCA:

Cash Box

February 3, 1968

Joanna Gault Signs Pact With RCA Victor Records

NEW YORK — Multi-talented Jonna Gault has been signed to an exclusive recording contract by RCA Victor, with her first release for the label in release this week.

Featured on “What If They Gave a War and No One Came” as a performer, Miss Gault arranged and produced the single as well. The track is marked with a pop music that employs classical instruments including the tuba, baritone horn and triangle.

DJ promo 45

Much of her music theory was learned early from her father, Adolph Silvanoff, a violinist. She also took piano lessons, and has developed an adeptness for singing, songwriting, arranging, producing and engineering.

Her first involvement in the record business came when she took a job as a girl Friday at a recording studio in Los Angeles. On weekends she sang with her own group, performing in clubs on the west coast while attending U.C.L.A. as a drama major.

Now living in Beverly Hills, she divides her time between working the recording studio and writing songs while studying orchestration.

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What If They Gave A War And No One Came?

Jonna Gault (1968)

Orchestrated & conducted by Lincoln Mayorga

What if they gave a war and no one came

If everyone refused to play the game

If peace broke out, would really be a shame

With no more hate, things wouldn’t seem the same

And if there were no lions left to tame.

And then who would we find to take the blame

And what of our good name

Our fortune and our fame

What if they gave a war and no one came

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Record World, who published their article about Jonna Gault’s RCA contract one week before Cash Box‘s piece, notes the RCA single to be a “topical” song and one “which mirrors the feelings of many of her generation.” If the song title has a distinct air of familiarity, it’s because you remember the slogan from posters displayed in “counterculture” establishments during the 1960s and 70s.

Whitney Museum of American Art

c. 1960s

The slogan was undoubtedly inspired by Charlotte E. Keyes‘ piece for the October 1966 issue of McCall’s, “Suppose They Gave a War and No One Came.” Keyes’ opening sentence quotes Carl Sandburg (with slight imprecision) from his 1936 book-length poem, The People, Yes:

Carl Sandburg once told of a little girl who, after hearing his description of a Civil War battle, observed, “Suppose they gave a war and no one came.”

Keyes continues —

Our son Gene has committed himself to that goal — to the day no one will come to war. The cost for him is high. He once told our husband and me, to our exasperation, “Jail is my destiny.” And he has indeed been imprisoned four times. His last sentence was three years in a federal penitentiary for refusing induction into the armed services.

(Image courtesy of Gene Keyes)

Quote/Counterquote helpfully provides the relevant text from Sandburg’s epic poem for comparison:

The first world war came and its cost was laid on the people.
The second world war — the third — what will be the cost.
And will it repay the people for what they pay?
The little girl saw her first troop parade and asked,
What are those?
Soldiers.’
What are soldiers?
They are for war. They fight and each tries to kill as many of the other side as he can.’
The girl held still and studied.
Do you know … I know something?
Yes, what is it you know?
Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.’

Smithsonian’s American History Museum

“currently not on view”

Buried on page 270 in Sandburg’s epic, notes Foundation For Economic Education‘s Marco den Ouden, “the line would probably have been forgotten except that it was picked up by James R. Newman, editor of Scientific American, who misquoted it in a letter to the editor of The Washington Post in 1961.” Keyes, it turns out, had clipped the letter to the editor by Newman (who was described in The New York TimesMay 29, 1966 obituary as “a rarity in the publishing world — a best-selling science writer”) and filed it away for future reference until it proved useful a few years later, as affirmed by Keyes’ other son, Ralph Keyes, and author of The Quote Verifier.

Curiously, a decision was made to exclude “What If They Gave A War And No One Came?” from Gault’s debut (and only) RCA full-length release, Watch Me.

Sadly, for Gault and RCA, there seems to be no evidence that the single ever charted, and Gault’s plea for peace nearly faded from memory until two years ago when 45sUS (a YouTube channel “dedicated to the rediscovery and cultural diffusion of rare and forgotten vinyl”) posted a streaming audio clip.

Gault’s short stint with RCA had been preceded by a similarly brief relationship with Reprise that had initially brimmed with optimism:

Cash Box

Record Ramblings

June 18, 1966

Are you ready for the word “Sincomperneer” ? It’s a mixture of singer, composer, performer and engineer. They had to come up with a new word to describe the talents of one Jonna Gault, the world’s first female “sincomperneer” whose initial Reprise single is titled “From My Window” — written, performed, produced and currently being promoted via a nationwide tour by this daughter of two Russian adagio dancers. If she shows in your home town she’ll be readily recognized by her trademarks — a cape and python boots. Wherever she goes, whether in pants or peau de soie, the python boots and cape go too. “Unfortunately,” she explains, “python is at a premium so I can’t find enough skin for a hat. I must locate a taxidermist.”

Reprise is gambling that this precocious 19 year old can happen. But how does one bet against a gal who, at the age of 3, rushed onstage at the Palace Theater in NY in the midst of an acrobatic routine to sing “God Bless America”?

Billboard

February 11, 1967

Prior to linking up with Reprise, the ‘sincomperneer’ released a pair of singles on Gault’s own M.A.P. imprint — “Come On Home” b/w “Man In The Moon” [1966] and “What’s The Use” (A-side arranged by Ernie Freeman) b/w “I’m Never Gonna Cry Again” [1967] — plus DJ/promo double-sided 45s of “That Wasn’t Very Nice” [1967] and “London House” (where the artist is simply billed as ‘Jonna Gault’).

Record World‘s February 11, 1967 issue would include a photo of Gault in the studio (below) with arranger-conductor Ernie Freeman during a session for “One Of These Days” — a song that appears never to have seen light of day.

Record World

February 11, 1967

“set for release”

Before releasing 45s on her own label, Gault had recorded a single for United Artists — “(Say There) English Boy” co-written by Lor Crane and released in November 1964 during Beatlemania’s initial onslaught — under the name Roberta Day.

Sadly, Gault – born Roberta Mae Silvanoff – left us this past March. This obituary for Roberta Mae Phillips was published April 16, 2023 in The Los Angeles Times:

Roberta Mae Phillips, 84, passed away at her home in Los Angeles, California on March 26, 2023. Roberta was born in 1938 in Boston, MA to Adolph and Lucille Silvanoff. From an early age, Roberta seemed destined and determined to follow in the footsteps of her parents, who were entertainers in their younger days. As her singing, dancing and songwriting talents grew, the family made the move to Hollywood, so Roberta could pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Along the way, she earned the honor of Valedictorian at Fairfax High [whose school campus was immortalized in the video for 1968’s “Slick” by Fairfax alum, Herb Alpert]. One of her first forays into the world of music was in the late 50’s with the musical trio Roberta Day and Her Knights. She signed a recording contract with RCA that led to the 1968 release of the album Watch Me, under the name Jonna Gault. Roberta wrote, arranged, produced, and played all the instruments on most of the songs. As one reviewer said of the album, “You have to look at the fact that this young woman made this rather grand statement, producing and arranging in a time when women just didn’t do stuff like that”. She was truly a trailblazer. Roberta went on to write and produce the well-received play Walls in 1982. Roberta was predeceased by her parents and leaves behind a large contingent of loving cousins & friends. She was interred at Mount Sinai Mortuary in Los Angeles, California, next to her parents. A service will be held at a future date.

Debut disc – as Roberta Daye

Released June 1962

Written by Sonny Bono

Abner – a subsidiary of Vee Jay

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Jonna Gault

Biographical details c/o 45Cat

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Bonus History!

Music & the Arts

Ace Card in GlobalHearts & MindsCampaign

“I have always thought music [to be] our best ambassador,” declares former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright in Mary Wharton‘s 2020 documentary, Jimmy Carter – Rock & Roll President. “Music,” Albright observes, “is one of the most vibrant parts of soft power.” 

Beginning in 1956 and lasting through the late 1970s, the U.S. State Department would attempt to put this knowledge into practice when it began deploying the country’s top jazz artists to various far-flung parts of the world in a concerted bid to challenge accusations abroad of racism at home, writes historian, Penny Von Eschen, in 2004’s Satchmo Blows Up The World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War.

Quincy Jones writes of his experience as a “jazz ambassador” for the State Department, organizing and rehearsing Dizzy Gillespie‘s band prior to taking them out on tour. “Everywhere we went, there was tremendous love,” Jones recalls, “The foreigners treated us better than than our own.”

Initially, however, there was considerable skepticism from members of the State Department staff, writes Jones:

I rehearsed Dizzy’s band hard for about two months. It was a burnin’ band: Ernie Wilkins, Melba Liston, Phil Woods, Herb Lance, Charlie Persip, Nelson Boyd, and Frank Rehak, a serious crew, and each of us understood what was happening. This was a chance to take jazz to places in the world where it had never been heard before and to represent our country. The State Department was apprehensive about a bunch of black musicians going overseas to represent the United States. In Beirut, the U.S. Information Service thought Dizzy was Dizzy Dean, the old baseball pitcher. Before we left New York they sent over a guy from the American National Theatre and Academy to brief us. He was arrogant and condescending. He came to rehearsal and stood in front of the band in a preppy wool suit and bow tie, and gave us advice in a flat, patronizing voice, saying, “I have nothing to tell you except that when you’re abroad, you’re representing our country. So please indulge in your various idiosyncrasies discreetly.

Nevertheless, the value of the musicians’ art in service to their country would quickly make itself known, notes Jones:

The State Department was stunned by the response the band got. For three months, they sent us to every post where there were problems and got nothing but raves: .we were the black kamikaze band. The American embassy in Athens was getting its ass kicked, being stoned by the Cypriot students, so they rushed us over there from Ankara, Turkey, and the Greek people loved it. At the concert there a huge crowd rushed the stage when we finished. We panicked, but there was nowhere to run. Before anyone could stop them, the mob swarmed the stage and picked up Dizzy, put him on their shoulders, and carried him around like a rock star, chanting, “Diz-zy! Diz-zy!” We were amazed and relieved.

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LINK to Music in Wartime

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TIP JAR –

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