CLEAR FORK VALLEY — Songs people know and treasure are floating in the air because of the efforts of a woman who feels she was “called’ to sing songs of World War I.
Cece Otto is singing songs like “Beautiful Ohio” and “Til we meet again,” waltzes that have their origins in World War I.
Her local performances were in Ashland and Hayesville, at its opera house, doing “American Songline.”
Otto has been going to towns along the old Lincoln Highway, which goes through Ohio.
She said people are eager to learn more about the origins of World War I songs, and she did a lot of research so she could answer questions after her performances.
Otto is a classically trained singer and composer, and said she had a “come to Jesus moment” in 2008 when she decided she would combine singing and traveling by going around the country to tell World War I song stories.
Some of the songs she sings come from Tin Pan Alley, in New York City, where much music was composed.
Her performance of World War I songs is a “very specific niche” but it has been received well, she said. She has obtained a trademark on “American Songline.”
When she performs, Otto dresses in an Army surgeon’s uniform.
Her ventures have taken her to 14 states along the Lincoln Highway. She is thinking of adding more.
The World War I songs appeal to many people over 65 years old, Otto said. They are familiar with some history of the World War I, but many times don’t know that certain songs came from that time.
For her performances she sings some songs which are familiar, but some have been provided to her by fans who want to know if she knows a certain song. One man from Canada reached out to her, asking her about a song. She told him she didn’t know it.
It is called “Home again.” It talks about how men of different nationalities are wanting to get back from the war.
She said she recorded it, and found it a “cool song.”
Irving Berlin composed much during that time, and had confessed he was nervous about releasing a song “How I hate to get up in the morning.”
Otto said he was nervous about sharing that sentiment “with the world.”
The songs she has chosen for her show are in a wide number of categories. Some are sentimental, or patriotic, or marches, or designed for children. She said there were 14,000 songs written during World War I.
When she does her performances a local pianist accompanies her. The pianist who accompanied her on “I’m always chasing rainbows” professed confusion that some of the notes were “muddy and weird,” Otto said.
The notes were supposed to be duplicating a bluebird’s song, she said.
Otto lives in Portland, Ore. She has two Master’s of Music degrees from the Lamont School at the University of Denver.
She said she started training at 14, and by 12, had developed a vibrato. She also has composed, and one composer with whom she was working was surprised that she had composed something like a Haydn chacona.