A Slip of the Lip

Luther Henderson, 1942

How might "a slip of a lip sink a ship"? What risks was this song warning about? What was the common slogan used during the war? Loose lips sink ships. Was the fear justified?

What information is useful to an enemy during wartime? Troop movements, technology advances, weapons production, etc. What means did intelligence operations have in 1942 to get this kind of information? What security measures were taken to keep this information from falling into the wrong hands?

Look up the definition of "propaganda." Does this song qualify as propaganda? When can propaganda be good and when can it be bad?

How does this song soften its serious message? Upbeat tempo, catchy tune, rhyming "hip" language. What other media were used to deliver this message? Posters, manuals, lectures, etc. What advantage does a song offer over other means to deliver this message?

During what other times has the United States struggled to balance national security and civil liberties? Alien and Sedition Act; suspension of habeas corpus in Civil War; McCarthy blacklisting of 1950s; anti-terrorism measures. When is it justified to ask people to voluntarily curb free speech or press? When is it justified for the government to do it involuntarily? What is the Constitutional justification for suspending liberties?

"A Slip of the Lip" performed by Duke Ellington on 20th Century Time Capsule, New York: Buddha [74465996332], © 1999. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


The recommended recording of this song is by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Ray Nance is the vocalist, and the band is directed by Mercer Ellington, Duke's son. Duke Ellington was a jazz composer and bandleader who got his start in the 1920s. Besides his jazz instrumental compositions, he also wrote popular songs that appealed to a wide national audience during the swing and big band eras.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:


One of the original posters that inspired the song.

"A Slip of the Lip" was composed after the government introduced the slogan "loose lips sink ships," urging everyone to be careful with sensitive information. Luther Henderson was the pianist in the Leonard Ware Trio, which introduced the song at Kelly's Stable, a jazz club on New York's 52nd Street. Performed as part of their usual program, it was also used to help the war effort. The song was subsequently recorded by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, featuring Ray Nance as vocalist and directed by Mercer Ellington, Duke's son.


Research World War II posters with the same security theme. Design a poster with the same message for inside of a bus that is as "hip" graphically as this song is musically.



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