‘Sound Off’ cadence creator Duckworth remembered

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SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (Real Times News Service) —In the winter of 1944, Private Willie Lee Duckworth Sr. of Sandersville, Ga., forever changed the landscape of U.S. Army marching drills when he created what’s now called the Duckworth “Sound Off” Chant.

proud
PROUD DAUGHTER—Connie Duckworth Pinkston is shown holding a picture of her father’s musical score, as it appears in the ASCAP archives. (Courtesy photo/Duckworth Estate.)

As a member of the nation’s segregated Army, Duckworth, later recounted that it all happened while marching with his fellow Black soldiers during a cold day at Fort Slocum, N.Y.

According to Duckworth’s oldest daughter, Connie Duckworth Pinkston, her father was ordered to drill his fellow troops by his White commanding officer that believed the soldiers needed more pep in their proverbial steps.

What resulted was the Duckworth “Sound Off” chant or cadence.

Young private Duckworth proceeded to create a rhythmic chant which helped his fellow soldiers keep time, in addition to infusing motivation and morale into their attitudes, said Pinkston, one of five Duckworth children.

Pinkston resides in Sandersville where her now-deceased father is a household name throughout this small, rural community of about 6,000 residents located 65 miles southwest of Augusta, Ga.

“My father was a humble man,” said Pinkston. “He never talked much about his accomplishments, but we knew enough about it when we were growing up,” said Pinkston, a veteran 911 emergency dispatcher with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

In the Oct. 28, 1951 edition of The New York Times, the headline reads “Tired GI’s chant becomes song hit.”

The story’s dateline is New Rochelle, NY., where writer John Stevens, refers to 200, weary-legged soldiers, dragging home after a 13-mile walk.

An excerpt from the news article states:

“Today the staccato sounds of Private Duckworth’s ‘Sound Off,’ resounds from radio and TV loudspeakers from the brass sections of college football bands and from juke boxes throughout the land. Squads of marching youngsters shout or bark it in the streets—one—two- three—four.”

The popularity of “Sound Off” among the GIs was noted at the Pentagon—and before V-J Day, copies had been distributed by the War Department to United States military posts throughout the world.

Duckworth’s composition has been recognized by the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers since 1951, according to ASCAP’s Repertory department in New York City.

The actual cadence rendition reads as such:

Ain’t no use in goin’ home

Jody’s got your gal and gone

Ain’t no use in feelin’ blue

Jody’s got your sister too

Sound off

One-two

Sound off

Three-four

In a 2002 newspaper interview with the Macon Telegraph, Duckworth said the cadence, “Made me famous for a while. And, it put some money in my pocket.”

Duckworth grew up as a sharecropper’s son and worked in a sawmill before being drafted into World War II. After leaving the Army, he used royalty checks from his “Sound Off” song to help purchase equipment to start his own pulpwood business, of which he ran up until his death in 2004, at age 80.

John “General” Mills a former professional boxer and Sandersville native, is credited with instigating a movement to get Duckworth the publicity and attention he so rightly deserved.

“I heard about Willie Lee’s accolades, but I didn’t see anything in the town that gave him any credit. Heck, I figured if Harlem (Ga.) could give comedian Oliver Hardy a museum and Macon could name a bridge for Otis Redding and James Brown has his own street in Augusta, then we needed to step-up and give our guy some attention too,” said Mills, who lived most of his adult life in Long Island, N.Y., until returning to Georgia after the 911 tragedy of 2001.

The Mills-led committee, along with community activist Rosby Gordon, through state, city and community cooperation, was able to successfully honor Duckworth with the renaming of Georgia Highway 242 to the Willie Lee Duckworth Highway where Duckworth grew up.

The committee also raised enough capital to honor Duckworth with a granite marker that was visibly placed on Washington County courthouse grounds.

Georgia Rep. Mack Jackson (D) also presented Duckworth’s wife, Edna Duckworth, with a legislative resolution honoring her late husband. The document was signed by members of the Georgia House of Representatives.

Edna Duckworth died in April.

Layne Kitchens, president of the Washington County Historical Society in the county seat of Sandersville, said, “We are very proud that Mr. Duckworth is from Washington County and of his accomplishments that put us on the world map.”

Pinkston said her father was always a creative soul.

“Our dad was a jokester. He would tell us short, funny stories. He was the type of person everyone liked to be around. ‘Sound Off’ was his independence. After leaving the Army; he bought a tractor, wood truck, saws and developed his own pulpwood company.

He treated his employees well and to this day they still love him,” she said.

Both Pinkston and Mills credit Col. Bernard Lentz, the superior officer at Fort Slocum who recognized that Duckworth’s creation warranted copyright protection and saw to it that his works were legally protected by ASCAP.

The song appeared in a 1949 film called “Battleground” and the 1952 movie, “Sound Off,” starring Mickey Rooney. The title song was recorded and sung by RCA-Victor vocalist and bandleader Vaughn Monroe, a film and TV star from the 1940s and 1950s. Monroe attended Jeanette High School and attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh before becoming a recording artist.

Adrian King a Georgia music educator and Army veteran said he recalls barking the Duckworth Chant while stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C. “We recited the cadence primarily during boot camp. It was motivational and also served to bond our unit,” said King, adding that he never realized the composer was also a native Georgian.

The chant has since been used in several TV commercials, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, according to Mills. The “Jody” phrase also appears in recordings by R&B singers Titus Turner, Johnnie Taylor and on TV’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” children’s program.

Mills says it’s vital that young soldiers realize the true origins of “Sound Off.”

“Amazingly, you’ve got drill sergeants all over the nation thinking that the ‘Sound Off’ cadence was created by some hot-shot soldier at West Point, when it was really written by a young, Black private from a small, country town in Georgia. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment,” said Mills.

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