Duration Blues

Johnny Mercer, 1944

What does "duration" mean? Short for "for the duration of the war." What is the source of his "duration blues"? Home-front shortages, rationing, restrictions during World War II.

What shortages does Mercer mention? Groceries, shoes, meat, plasma. What other restrictions were there during World War II? Driving, blackouts, clothing. What was recycled? Rubber, steel, silk, cooking grease, paper, etc. What were the reasons for each restriction? What substitutes did people find? Victory gardens, leg make-up, Spam, Crisco, etc.

How serious are the singer's complaints? Why did people submit to restrictions with humor?

Why weren't home-front restrictions used in later wars? World War II was widespread, followed a severe depression. What other rationing has been used since then? 1970s gas rationing; rolling blackouts; voluntary water rationing. Would Americans be willing to endure years of shortages again as they did in World War II? Why?

Would a song in this style (Black dialect by a white singer) be accepted today? Why? How did you feel when listening to this song? What reaction would listeners in the early 1940s have? How does ethical behavior in one generation become unethical in another? What are some other examples?

"Duration Blues" performed by Johnny Mercer on Sam's Got Him, Hollywood, CA: Capitol [CAP260-2-A], © 1944. Available on Spotify and YouTube.

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


Born in Savannah, Georgia, Johnny Mercer (1909–76) was a prolific lyricist and composer. Without formal musical training, he wrote his first song at the age of fifteen. He moved to New York as a young man and looked for work as an actor. Instead he found his career moving in the direction of singing and songwriting. His early experiences include singing and writing songs for Broadway and big bands. Mercer transferred his talents to Hollywood in 1933, where he eventually received four Academy Awards for Best Song.

1943 rationing poster from the Office of Price Administration.

In the early 1940s he began hosting his own radio show, Johnny Mercer's Music Shop. Soon after he co-founded Capitol Records. Throughout the 1940s, Mercer published over 250 songs. His career continued in the 1950s and 1960s, including film scores and hit songs. He died in Los Angeles in 1976.

Little is known about "Duration Blues." It may have been written for a movie or as a personal reaction to wartime rationing. This song is an adapted, not pure, blues style that was popular in the 1930s and 40s, as southern blues migrated from south to north.

Interview family members or friends about war restrictions and shortages they remember. What changes did they make during the restrictions?

Why haven't voluntary rationing and conservation of fuel and trash worked as well as World War II rationing? Which programs have worked best? Why? Create a song, a poster, or a radio spot to encourage voluntary rationing today.



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