V-Discs: Music of the Liberators

United States forces helped liberate Belgium starting on September 2nd 1944, and brought their music with them in the form of V-Discs. After four years of Nazi occupation and a ban on American music, Belgians embraced the tunes of their liberators with passion.

The V-Disc —or Victory Disc— project was launched in July 1943 in the US amidst a recording ban imposed by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Due to disagreements about royalty payments, the AMF orchestrated a strike, prohibiting union musicians from making commercial recordings. No longer able to provide the troops with current popular music due to the ban, the Morale Branch of the US War Department established the V-Disc program to produce records for the armed forces.


Project’s idea

The idea for the project came from the then Lieutenant Robert Vincent, who had previously worked in the Radio Section of the Morale Branch. Vincent negotiated with the AFM and the American Federation of Radio Artists (AMFR) and reached an agreement. The V-Discs were to be used exclusively by military personnel, and could not be sold commercially. In exchange the AFM agreed to waiver all copyright payments as well as fees for the services of the artists. This agreement made it possible for the army to afford the V-Disc program, as funds went instead into the production of the records. Vincent and his team were then able to produce the latest music for the armed forces.

Among the V-Discs released to the troops during the months of the liberation of Belgium were records by artists such as Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Stan Keaton, and Benny Goodman, as well as Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Cab Calloway. The project was so successful that it continued to run even after the recording ban of the AMF had been lifted. Throughout the project more than 8 million records were produced and distributed to the troops. Vincent was later promoted to Major for his services.


Glenn Miller’s band plays for US and Allied troops in England, Jun-Dec 1944.   © Courtesy Air Force photo by Air University History Office


Belgians & Jazz

Belgians had embraced American jazz before the war, but during the occupation it was officially banned. American music was seen by the Nazis as degenerate and a threat to Aryan culture, and they allowed jazz to persist in Belgium only in sanitised forms. With the arrival of the Allies and the subsequent liberation, Belgians enjoyed an abundance of jazz, not only via V-Discs but also through jazz radio programs previously banned during the occupation.

Find out more about the Liberation of Belgium

Read about the Liberation of Brussels


Belgians locals hosted concerts and dances even in the early days of the liberation, and jazz record companies were established soon after the war. One such company was Victory, founded by Jacques Kluger and Félix Faecq, along with a nightclub of the same name. Jazz clubs reopened or started up in the wake of the liberation and some even released periodicals. The Hot Club de Belgique, a prominent jazz club, had continued to operate throughout the occupation under a different name: the Club Rythmique de Belgique. After the liberation the club reverted to its original name and in 1946 began a monthly publication called the Hot Club Magazine.

An exposé on the V-discs is featured in the April 1946 edition of the magazine, detailing the history behind the record production and claiming that there were thousands of V-Discs in Belgium. The article also features a list of recommended V-Disc records, including V-Discs 384a and 348b “All Star Jam Session” featuring amongst others Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Herb Ellis and Trummy Young; 480b “Duke Ellington and his Orchestra”; 308a “Fats Waller and his Rhythm”; and 211b “Eddie Condon and his Town Hall Jazz Orchestra.”


Portrait of Louis Armstrong, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946.  © William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress


Following the liberation

Despite the agreement regarding distribution and commercialisation of the V-Discs, these records were not enjoyed exclusively by military personnel. Many soldiers traded their V-Discs for other supplies such as food or alcohol in the first few months of the liberation, which led to some locals receiving visits from the US Military Police. Anywhere US soldiers were stationed there were bound to be V-Discs, left behind when the troops moved on.

The classifieds section of the magazine attests to the continued popularity of the V-Discs even after the war. Throughout the 1946 editions people frequently posted ads to buy, sell or swap V-Discs, including the “All Stars” compilations, as well as records by Billie Holiday, Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, King Cole. While reference to the records diminished in subsequent years, people still advertised to buy and sell V-Discs even five years after the end of the war.

In September 1944, after years of Nazi occupation, Belgians finally tasted freedom — and heard it too. The V-Discs left behind by the US troops served as a reminder of this period in Belgian history, and for years after the locals enjoyed the music of their liberators.

Article written by Mhairi Gador-Whyte, Australia


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