WAA-France Backs Scholar’s Study of Subversive Songs

Kelly Jakes

Thanks to the first-ever Ouisconsin Scholar award, Kelly Jakes gained access to archives and resource centers in Paris and Lyon in the fall of 2010.

During World War II, altered versions of popular songs gave members of the French Resistance access to information banned by Nazi occupiers and the installed Vichy government.

University of Wisconsin-Madison PhD candidate Kelly Jakes has focused her research on how and why members of the Resistance used well-known tunes to subvert and battle their occupiers. Thanks to the first-ever Ouisconsin Scholar award from members of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, France Chapter, she gained access to archives and resource centers in Paris and Lyon in the fall of 2010.

“The people were using old melodies from World War I and the French Revolution,” Jakes said. “Songs were used to communicate and build up the psychological foundations for the Resistance.” That helped sustain the national identity during the time of Nazi occupation and the collaborating Vichy government.

“There is a treasure trove of material,“ said Jakes, who explored source archives in places such as Radio-Paris, the French National Police Archives and the Center for the History of the Resistance & Deportation.

The WAA-France Chapter received nine applications across a wide variety of disciplines. “The Ouisconsin scholarship helps a student realize his or her academic pursuits, which will likely have a global mark and provide notoriety for the University,” said Jennifer Korpinen (’95 BS L&S), the scholarship committee co-chair and senior manager for international corporate services at KMPG LLP.

Jakes noted that the Resistance used the subverted versions of popular songs to organize itself. International star Edith Piaf, who was seen as singing mostly songs of lost love and topics not related to the struggle, was a key member of the Resistance who helped smuggle out prisoners after singing at German prisoner of war camps. During the war, Jakes said, French citizens were arrested for singing in the streets. In arrest reports, incriminating facts often included documentation that “this person was singing in public.”

Jakes, who grew up in North Carolina, earned her bachelor’s degree in communication arts and music, and her master’s is in communication arts. Her current research and dissertation, the proposal for which she defended this April, grew out of her master’s thesis.

“I am so honored and pleased to be chosen,” Jakes said of being the first Ouisconsin Scholar. “I would not have been able to do this without this award from the WAA-France Chapter. The work I did in Paris’ archives also helped me to win another research fellowship for next year with the Graduate School of Journalism and Communications of the Sorbonne University.”