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Danielle Stein

Danielle Stein is a PhD student in the Department of Musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her current research examines World War II propaganda music and the development of weaponized music and sonic environments over the 20th and 21st centuries. Also a soprano and an avid community arts producer, Danielle served as the Assistant Artistic Director of the Celestial Opera Company (2014-2017) and is a co-founder of the California Music Collective.

"Infiltrating the Wehrmacht: Utilizing Marlene Dietrich’s Gendered Performances in Clandestine Propaganda"
In August of 1944, Marlene Dietrich recorded twelve popular songs, with German texts, for the newly formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Designed to demoralize the German soldiers and civilians, the reworked popular American and German songs were part of the Top Secret Musak Project, initiated in 1944 by the Morale Operations or psychological warfare branch of the OSS. These manipulated popular standards—with weaponized intent—were broadcast via the allied clandestine station, Soldatensender Calais, throughout Europe and surrounding waters. In addition to the OSS rendition of the war-hit “Lili Marleen,” Dietrich recorded several songs from her movies fashioned with new propaganda lyrics and arrangements. Capitalizing on Dietrich’s sexual ambiguity and history as a cabaret and film performer, these songs take aim through their lyrical constructions and evocations of historical memory. However, it is Marlene’s powerful and unique vocal delivery that has been noted by OSS operatives and German POWs as being most effective at demoralization.

An examination of Dietrich’s first film, The Blue Angel, considers the female cabaret performer as “icon”, both challenging the male gaze and subverting power. Exploiting the fluid boundaries of the cabaret and the confluence of performative modes that Dietrich projects in The Blue Angel, the OSS crafted songs that The United States Bombing Survey discovered to be just as devastating to enemy morale as an air raid. Records from the National Archive, CIA, and biographical accounts reveal the role gendered performance played in the creation of subversive propaganda, and ultimately the success of its calculated implementation. Following the war, Musak Project debriefing reports were integrated into CIA planning and used to inform future projects such as “Voice of Liberation Radio” in Guatemala during the 1950s, “Radio Swan” in Cuba, 1960s, “Free Voice of Iran” and “Radio Quince de Septiembre” in Iran and Nicaragua during the 1980s.