America the Beautiful

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"America the Beautiful"
5 America, the Beautiful.png
Sheet music version
Patriotic
Published 1895 (poem)
Writer Katharine Lee Bates
Composer Samuel A. Ward
Audio sample
File:America the Beautiful.midfile info · help
Performed by the United States Navy Band and Sea Chanters, arr. Carmen Dragon


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"America the Beautiful" is an American patriotic song. The lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, and the music was composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward.

Bates originally wrote the words as a poem, Pikes Peak, first published in the Fourth of July edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist in 1895. At that time, the poem was titled America for publication.

Ward had originally written the music, Materna, for the hymn O Mother dear, Jerusalem in 1882, though it was not first published until 1892.[1] Ward's music combined with the Bates poem was first published in 1910 and titled America the Beautiful.

The song is one of the most popular of the many American patriotic songs.[2]

History[edit]

Commemoration plaque atop Pikes Peak in July 1999.

In 1893, at the age of thirty-six, Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College. Several of the sights on her trip inspired her, and they found their way into her poem, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the "White City" with its promise of the future contained within its alabaster buildings; the wheat fields of America's heartland Kansas, through which her train was riding on July 16; and the majestic view of the Great Plains from high atop Zebulon's Pikes Peak.

On the pinnacle of that mountain, the words of the poem started to come to her, and she wrote them down upon returning to her hotel room at the original Antlers Hotel. The poem was initially published two years later in The Congregationalist, to commemorate the Fourth of July. It quickly caught the public's fancy. Amended versions were published in 1904 and 1913.

Several existing pieces of music were adapted to the poem. A hymn tune composed by Samuel A. Ward was generally considered the best music as early as 1910 and is still the popular tune today. Just as Bates had been inspired to write her poem, Ward too was inspired to compose his tune. The tune came to him while he was on a ferryboat trip from Coney Island back to his home in New York City, after a leisurely summer day in 1882, and he immediately wrote it down. He was so anxious to capture the tune in his head, he asked fellow passenger friend Harry Martin for his shirt cuff to write the tune on. He composed the tune for the old hymn "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem", retitling the work "Materna". Ward's music combined with Bates' poem were first published together in 1910 and titled, America the Beautiful.[3]

Ward died in 1903, not knowing the national stature his music would attain, as the music was only first applied to the song in 1904. Bates was more fortunate, as the song's popularity was well established by the time of her death in 1929.

At various times in the more than 100 years that have elapsed since the song was written, particularly during the John F. Kennedy administration, there have been efforts to give "America the Beautiful" legal status either as a national hymn, or as a national anthem equal to, or in place of, "The Star-Spangled Banner", but so far this has not succeeded. Proponents prefer "America the Beautiful" for various reasons, saying it is easier to sing, more melodic, and more adaptable to new orchestrations while still remaining as easily recognizable as "The Star-Spangled Banner." Some prefer "America the Beautiful" over "The Star-Spangled Banner" due to the latter's war-oriented imagery. Others prefer "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the same reason. While that national dichotomy has stymied any effort at changing the tradition of the national anthem, "America the Beautiful" continues to be held in high esteem by a large number of Americans.

The melody of this song was the school song of the former University of Shanghai, which closed in 1952. Currently, it is used by Shanghai Alumni Primary School in Hong Kong and Hujiang High School in Taiwan as the melody of their school song.[citation needed]

At Colorado College, where Bates was teaching at the time of writing it, "America the Beautiful" is commonly sung at events such as convocations, commencement, and baccalaureate, and has become somewhat of a second anthem for the school.[citation needed]

When Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, this song was played as the welcome music.[citation needed]

This song was used as the background music of the television broadcast of the Tiangong-1 launch.[4]

The song is often included in songbooks in a wide variety of religious congregations in the United States.[citation needed]

Lyrics[edit]

Original poem (1893)

America. A Poem for July 4.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!
O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife,
When once or twice, for man's avail,
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

1904 version

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
O beautiful for glorious tale
Of liberating strife,
When valiantly for man's avail
Men lavish precious life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

1913 version

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Popular versions[edit]

Three different renditions of the song have entered the Hot Country Songs charts. The first was by Charlie Rich, which went to number 22 in 1976.[5] A second, by Mickey Newbury, peaked at number 82 in 1980.[6] An all-star version of "America the Beautiful" performed by country singers Trace Adkins, Sherrie Austin, Billy Dean, Vince Gill, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Toby Keith, Brenda Lee, Lonestar, Lyle Lovett, Lila McCann, Lorrie Morgan, Jamie O'Neal, The Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye, Kenny Rogers, Keith Urban and Phil Vassar reached number 58 in July 2001. The song re-entered the chart following the September 11 terrorist attacks.[7]

Popularity of the song increased greatly following the September 11, 2001 attacks; at some sporting events it was sung in addition to the traditional singing of the national anthem. During the first taping of the Late Show with David Letterman following the attacks, CBS newsman Dan Rather cried briefly as he quoted the fourth verse.[8]

The Cedarmont Kids covered the song on their album "Songs Of America."

Idioms[edit]

"From sea to shining sea", originally used in the charters of some of the English Colonies in North America, is an American idiom meaning from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean (or vice versa). Many songs have used this term, including the American patriotic songs "America, The Beautiful" and "God Bless the USA". In addition to these, it is also featured in Schoolhouse Rock's "Elbow Room". A term similar to this is the Canadian motto A Mari Usque Ad Mare ("From sea to sea.")

"Purple mountain majesties" refers to the shade of the Rocky Mountains, which Kate looked at while writing the poem.

Books[edit]

Lynn Sherr's 2001 book America the Beautiful discusses the origins of the song and the backgrounds of its authors in depth. The book points out that the poem has the same meter as that of "Auld Lang Syne"; the songs can be sung interchangeably. Additionally, Sherr points out that this was the original third verse written by Bates:[9]

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
'Til selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free.

Barbara Younger has written a children's book about the writing of the song: Purple Mountain Majesties: The Story of Katharine Lee Bates and "America the Beautiful". The book has illustrations by artist Stacey Schuett.

This song is also used in Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game.

References[edit]

  1. ^ McKim, LindaJo (1993). The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press. p. 379. ISBN 9780664251802. Retrieved 2012-06-22.  (McKim notes that Ward mailed a friend a postcard in which he stated the hymn had been composed in 1882, however).
  2. ^ "Materna (O Mother Dear, Jerusalem) / Samuel Augustus Ward [hymnal]:Print Material Full Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress". Lcweb2.loc.gov. 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  3. ^ Collins, Ace (2003). Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. Harper. p. 19. ISBN 0-06-051304-7. 
  4. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/30/china-launch-america-the-beautiful
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 350. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 
  6. ^ Whitburn, p. 297
  7. ^ Whitburn, p. 24
  8. ^ Zacharek, Stephanie (2001-09-18). "Dan Rather's tears; Journalists don't cry on camera. That was before last week.". Salon.com. 
  9. ^ Sherr, Lynn (2001). America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song. New York: PublicAffairs. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-58648-085-1. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  • Sherr, Lynn (2001). America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1-58648-085-1.

External links[edit]