God Bless America

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"God Bless America"
Song
Published 1918, 1938 (revised)
Genre Patriotic song
Composer Irving Berlin

"God Bless America" is an American patriotic song written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and revised by him in 1938. The later version has notably been recorded by Kate Smith, becoming her signature song.[1][2]

"God Bless America" takes the form of a prayer (intro lyrics "as we raise our voices, in a solemn prayer") for God's blessing and peace for the nation ("...stand beside her and guide her through the night...").

History[edit]

Irving Berlin, 1941

Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1918 while serving the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, but decided that it did not fit in a revue called Yip Yip Yaphank, so he set it aside.[3] The lyrics at that time included the line "Make her victorious on land and foam, God bless America..."[4] as well as "Stand beside her and guide her to the right with the light from above".[5]

Music critic Jody Rosen says that a 1906 Jewish dialect novelty song, "When Mose with His Nose Leads the Band," contains a six-note fragment that is "instantly recognizable as the opening strains of "God Bless America"". He interprets this as an example of Berlin's "habit of interpolating bits of half-remembered songs into his own numbers."[6] Berlin, born Israel Baline, had himself written several Jewish-themed novelty tunes.[7]

Kate Smith, 1930s

In 1938, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Berlin, who was Jewish and a first-generation Russian immigrant, felt it was time to revive it as a "peace song," and it was introduced on an Armistice Day broadcast in 1938, sung by Kate Smith on her radio show.[8] Berlin had made some minor changes; by this time, "to the right" might have been considered a call to the political right, so he substituted "through the night" instead. He also provided an introduction that is now rarely heard but which Smith always used: "While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free / Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer." (In her first broadcast of the song, Kate Smith sang "that we're far from there" rather than "for a land so fair".)[5] This was changed when Berlin published the sheet music in March 1939.[5]

Woody Guthrie criticized the song, which he considered unrealistic and complacent, and in 1940 he wrote "This Land Is Your Land," originally titled "God Blessed America For Me," as a response.[9] Anti-Semitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan also protest the song due to its authorship by a Jewish immigrant.[5]

In 1943, Smith's rendition was featured in the patriotic musical This is the Army along with other Berlin songs. The manuscripts in the Library of Congress reveal the evolution of the song from victory to peace. Berlin gave the royalties of the song to the God Bless America Fund for redistribution to the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA. Smith performed the song on her two NBC television series in the 1950s and in her short-lived The Kate Smith Show on CBS, which aired on CBS from January 25 to July 18, 1960.[10] "God Bless America" also spawned another of Irving Berlin's tunes, "Heaven Watch The Philippines," during the end of World War II after he heard the Filipinos sing a slightly revised version of the song replacing "America" with "The Philippines."

The song was used early in the Civil Rights Movement as well as at labor rallies.[5] During the 1960s, the song was increasingly used by Christian conservatives in the US to signal their opposition to secular liberalism and to silence dissenters who were speaking in favor of communism or in opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.[11]

Later, from December 11, 1969,[8] through the early 1970s, the playing of Smith singing the song before many home games of the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers brought it renewed popularity as well as a reputation for being a "good luck charm" to the Flyers[8] long before it became a staple of nationwide sporting events.[8] The Flyers even brought Smith in to perform live before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974, and the Flyers won the Cup that day.[8][10]

Traditional lyrics[edit]

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Originally, the final two lines of the song were, God bless America my own sweet home, my home sweet home.

Many renditions of the song omit the introductory verse and begin with "God bless America..."

Notable public performances[edit]

Use by American government[edit]

"God Bless America" was the official campaign song for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940.[11] At that time, the song represented cultural and religious tolerance.[11]

During a live television broadcast on the evening of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, following addresses by then House and Senate leaders Dennis Hastert and Tom Daschle, members of the United States Congress broke out into an apparently spontaneous verse of "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.[12]

On July 21, 2011, Smith's version of the song was played as NASA's final wakeup call for the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135), capping the 30-year shuttle program.

Sports events[edit]

National Hockey League[edit]

"God Bless America" has been performed at home games of the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers and those of the Ottawa Senators in which the visiting team is from the United States. (The NHL requires arenas in both the U.S. and Canada to perform both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada," the Canadian national anthem, at games that involve teams from both countries.[13])

At some Flyers' home games, especially during big games and the playoffs, their main anthem singer, Lauren Hart, has sung "God Bless America" alternating lyrics with Kate Smith on a video screen. Kate Smith actually appeared in person to sing at select Flyers games, including their 1974 Stanley Cup clinching game against the Boston Bruins, to which she received a thunderous ovation from the passionate Philadelphia fans. Before games whenever "God Bless America" is performed, Lou Nolan, the PA announcer for the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, would say: "Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, we ask that you please rise and remove your hats and salute to our flags and welcome the number 1 ranked anthemist in the NHL, Lauren Hart, as she sings (if the visiting team is from Canada, O Canada, followed by) God Bless America, accompanied by the great Kate Smith."[14]

At some Senators home games since 2000–01,[15] if the visiting team is from the U.S., their main anthem singer, Ontario Provincial Police Constable Lyndon Slewidge, has sung "God Bless America" and "O Canada."[15] An example of this came during the Senators' home opener during the 2002-03 season, when they were home against the New Jersey Devils.[16]

During Tom Golisano's time as owner of the Buffalo Sabres, the team occasionally substituted "The Star Spangled Banner" with "God Bless America" for certain special events. When this occurred, Ronan Tynan would be brought in to sing the song while usual anthem singer Doug Allen sang "O Canada."

Major League Baseball[edit]

On August 26, 2008, a fan at a Boston Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium, who had attempted to leave for the restroom during the playing of the song, was restrained and ejected by NYPD officers. As part of the settlement of a subsequent lawsuit, the New York Yankees announced that they would no longer restrict the movement of fans during the playing of the song.[17]

At Chicago's Wrigley Field during the Vietnam War, the song was often played by the organist as part of his postgame playlist while fans filed out of the stadium.[18]

On September 15, 2009, three high school teens filed a lawsuit against New Jersey's minor league Newark Bears for being ejected from Eagles Riverfront Stadium over their refusal to stand during the playing of "God Bless America" on June 29, 2009. Before being ejected, they were asked to leave the stadium by Bears president and co-owner Thomas Cetnar.[19]

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "God Bless America" is commonly sung during the seventh-inning stretch in Major League Baseball games, most often on Sundays,[20] Opening Day,[21] Memorial Day,[22] Independence Day, All-Star Game, Labor Day, September 11,[23] and all post-season Major League Baseball games. Following the attacks, John Dever, then the Assistant Media Relations Director with the San Diego Padres, suggested the song replace "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", the more traditional 7th inning anthem.[24] MLB quickly followed the Padres lead and instituted it league-wide for the rest of the season; presently, teams decide individually when to play the song. Yankee Stadium,[25] Dodger Stadium,[26] and Turner Field[21] are currently the only Major League ballparks to play "God Bless America" in every game during the seventh-inning stretch. The Yankees' YES Network and the Dodgers' telecast on Fox Sports West televises its performance during some (mainly home) games before going to a commercial. During major games (playoff contests, Opening Day, national holidays, or games against Boston or the Mets), the Yankees will often have Irish tenor Ronan Tynan perform the song.[27]

American football[edit]

To honor the start of the United States Bicentennial, Kate Smith sang "God Bless America" for a national television audience, accompanied by the UCLA Band at the 1976 Rose Bowl.

Indianapolis 500[edit]

The Indianapolis 500 is traditionally run at the end of the month of May, and "God Bless America" has been sung there since 2003. The song "America the Beautiful" was sung before, but it was switched to "God Bless America" in the post-9/11 era. The song has traditionally been performed by Florence Henderson, a native Hoosier, and is a friend of the Hulman-George family, the track's owners. Her performance, often not televised, immediately precedes the national anthem.[28] Henderson routinely sings the entire song, including the prologue, and in some years sings the chorus a second time.

Celine Dion[edit]

"God Bless America"
Single by Céline Dion
from the album God Bless America
Released October 24, 2001 (2001-10-24)
Format Radio single
Genre Pop
Length 3:47
Label Columbia, Epic
Writer(s) Irving Berlin
Producer(s) David Foster
Céline Dion singles chronology
"Don't Save It All for Christmas Day"
(2000)
"God Bless America"
(2001)
"Sous le vent"
(2001)
Music sample

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Canadian pop star Celine Dion performed the song on the TV special America: A Tribute to Heroes. Shortly afterwards on October 16, Sony Music Entertainment released a benefit album called God Bless America, which featured Dion singing the song. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and became the first charity album to reach the top since USA for Africa's "We Are the World" in 1985.[29] Céline Dion's version also received enough radio airplay to reach number 14 on Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. The music video was made and aired in September 2001. Dion performed the song also a few times during 2002. In 2003, she performed it at Super Bowl XXXVII, which was the first time that "God Bless America" was performed at a Super Bowl.[30] She sang it on July 4, 2004 in her A New Day... show as well. "God Bless America" performed by Dion exists in two versions, live and studio. Both included on collections to gather funds for the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and their families. The live version, on America: A Tribute to Heroes, is from the telethon event of the same name that took place on September 21, 2001. The studio version is on the God Bless America album, a patriotic songs CD. It was recorded on September 20, 2001, the day before the American telethon. It was meant to be a replacement for the performance in the event something happened and Dion couldn't appear.

Daniel Rodríguez[edit]

The song was recorded by New York City's "singing cop," Daniel Rodríguez, and charted for one week at number 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single. Before the 2001 versions, the last time "God Bless America" had been a Billboard chart hit was in 1959 when Connie Francis reached number 36 with her version (the B-side of her Top 10 hit "Among My Souvenirs").

Other versions[edit]

"God Bless America"
Single by LeAnn Rimes
from the album You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs and God Bless America
B-side Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart (CD single)
The National Anthem (Radio CD single)
Released October 16, 2001
Format CD single
Recorded 1997
Genre Country
Length 3:06
Label Curb
Writer(s) Irving Berlin
Producer(s) Wilbur C. Rimes
LeAnn Rimes singles chronology
"But I Do Love You"
(2001)
"God Bless America"
(2001)
"Life Goes On"
(2002)
Music sample

In 1996 the King of Yiddish Music Leo Fuld recorded a Dutch version of the song as God Bless The Netherlands, that he presented and sang on April 30 to H.M. Queen Beatrix of Holland.

In 1997, American country music recording artist LeAnn Rimes recorded a cover of the song on her second studio album, You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs.[31] After the events of September 11, Rimes rereleased the song on a compilation album by the same name.[32] Rimes also released the song on a CD single. Two versions were released on October 16, 2001.[33] Both versions contain the song as the A-side track, but the B-side tracks were different. One released to the general public was released with the B-side track, "Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart,"[33] and the other was released to radio with the B-side track of Rimes's rendition of "The National Anthem."[34] Rimes's version peaked at number fifty-seven on the Billboard Country Songs chart on October 27, 2001.[35]

In 2009, keyboardist Bob Baldwin covered the renowned song from his album "Lookin' Back."[36][37]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The song was sung in the 1943 film This is the Army with slightly modified lyrics.
  • The song was sung by the main characters in Michael Cimino's 1978 war film The Deer Hunter. Regarding the song in the film, Roger Ebert says in his March 9, 1979 review: "It [the film] ends on a curious note: The singing of "God Bless America". I won't tell you how it arrives at that particular moment... but I do want to observe that the lyrics of "God Bless America" have never before seemed to me to contain such an infinity of possible meanings, some tragic, some unspeakably sad, some few still defiantly hopeful".
  • The song is prominently featured in the film Once Upon a Time in America, where it is played during a murder at the beginning of the picture.
  • In the "Flashback: Mike Meets Archie" episode of All in the Family from 1971, after Archie Bunker was disgusted with Mike "Meathead" Stivic's liberal viewpoints, Archie stood up and sang a butchered version of "God Bless America" while Mike was screaming at Archie.

Parodies[edit]

The song has spawned numerous parodies.

  • An irreverent version of the lyrics was printed in the book The MAD World of William M. Gaines, by Frank Jacobs (1972). MAD magazine's veteran art editor, John Putnam, had prepared some copy and sent it to the printers; the word "America" was divided, with a hyphen, at the end of one line. The copy was returned to Putnam by the typesetting foreman, who explained that his union had a rule forbidding the splitting of that word. Putnam obliged, rewriting the copy and sending it back with this enclosure:
Don't break "America";
Land we extol;
Don't deface it;
Upper-case it;
Keep it clean, keep it pure, keep it whole;
In Bodoni, in Futura,
In Old English, in Cabell {{sic}}--
Don't break "America"--
Or we'll—raise—hell!
  • "I am an Anglican" is sung as an Episcopal church camp song. A midwestern version refers to Lutherans, a mid-Atlantic one to Presbyterians.[citation needed]
  • God Bless America, a 2011 film by Bobcat Goldthwait, is a dark comedy that satirizes the present-day American values. The story revolves around a loveless, jobless, possibly terminally ill man and his 16-year-old female companion, who go on a killing spree, offing the stupidest, cruelest, and most repellent members of American society.

God Bless America![edit]

An earlier and much more obscure song called "God Bless America!" was written by Robert Montgomery Bird and published in 1834. Sheet music for this version is available online from the Library of Congress. The lyrics begin:

God bless the land that gave us birth!
No pray'r but this know we.
God bless the land, of all the earth,
The happy and the free.
And where's the land like ours can brave
The splendor of the day.
And find no son of hers a slave?
God bless America!
God bless the land, the land beloved
Forever and for aye!
God bless the land that gave us birth.
God bless America!

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ http://katesmith.org/gba.html
  2. ^ http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm019.html
  3. ^ *Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003, p. 82-83.
  4. ^ LOC.gov
  5. ^ a b c d e "From Peace To Patriotism: The Shifting Identity Of 'God Bless America'". Interview of Sheryl Kaskowitz by Robert Siegel. NPR.org. 2 September 2013. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  6. ^ http://www.rebootstereophonic.com/index.php?site=rebootst&page=st_jewface&id=117
  7. ^ Michael Alexander (2003). Jazz Age Jews. Princeton University Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-691-11653-2. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Flyers History - Kate Smith" on FlyersHistory.com website. Accessed in 2007.
  9. ^ http://www.docstoc.com/docs/6303117/God_Bless_America
  10. ^ a b Alex McNeil, Total Television (New York: Penguin Books, 4th ed., 1996), pp. 446-447
  11. ^ a b c Kaskowitz, Sheryl (4 July 2013). ""God Bless America" and Republicans: How the song became an anthem of conservatives and the Christian right". Slate. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Jonathan Karl (12 September 2001). "Congress vows unity, reprisals for attacks". CNN. 
  13. ^ Allen, Kevin (2003-03-23). "NHL Seeks to Stop Booing For a Song". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  14. ^ May 24th, 2010 Anthems sung by Kate Smith & Lauren Hart Canadiens Vs. Flyers HNiC on YouTube
  15. ^ a b "Shots From the Point". The Ottawa Citizen. November 4, 2000. p. F3. "Renowned anthem singer Lyndon Slewidge also sounds a bit different, with a new background music accompanying his lyrics to O Canada. He will also substitute God Save America for The Star Spangled Banner on selected occasions." 
  16. ^ New Jersey Devils Hockey: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators (radio). New Jersey Devils Radio WABC Talk Radio 77 AM (New York). 2002-10-10. 
  17. ^ "Yankees Settle ‘God Bless America’ Case, Won’t Restrict Spectators' Movements During Song". nyclu.org. July 7, 2009. Retrieved September 11, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Monday's act heroic after 30 years Outfielder recalls protecting country's honor from protesters". chicago.cubs.mlb.com. April 25, 2006. Retrieved April 25, 2006. 
  19. ^ "Teens Sue Over Minor League Ejection". news.aol.com. September 15, 2009. Retrieved September 15, 2009. [dead link]
  20. ^ http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/story/15425330/god-bless-america-and-baseball-10-years-later
  21. ^ a b http://atlanta.braves.mlb.com/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20080325&content_id=2456889&vkey=pr_atl&fext=.jsp&c_id=atl
  22. ^ Daily News (New York) http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/major-league-baseball-honors-memorial-day-special-caps-rolls-red-carpet-military-gallery-1.1085796?pmSlide=15 |url= missing title (help). 
  23. ^ http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110909&content_id=24435892&vkey=09112011
  24. ^ http://aol.sportingnews.com/mlb/feed/2011-09/remembering-911/story/god-bless-america-and-baseball-10-years-after-911
  25. ^ http://web.yesnetwork.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090707&content_id=5741456&vkey=4&oid=36019
  26. ^ Plaschke, Bill (September 6, 2011). "We should feel blessed for patriotic display at Dodger Stadium". Los Angeles Times. 
  27. ^ http://www.nesn.com/2010/03/exyankees-god-bless-america-singer-ronan-tynan-moves-to-boston.html
  28. ^ http://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/indy500/eventinfo/35391-Schedule/
  29. ^ Glatzer, Jenna (2005). Céline Dion: For Keeps. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 0-7407-5559-5. 
  30. ^ Hooper, Barrett (January 24, 2003). "Man, it feels like a great show". National Post. p. A3. "Marc Anthony and Mary J. Blige sang "America the Beautiful", which was also performed at Super Bowl XXXV by Ray Charles and at "Super Bowl XI" by Vicki Carr. This is the first time for God Bless America, which Ms. Dion will perform to a prerecorded music track and to backing vocals by a large choir." 
  31. ^ "You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs: Leann Rimes: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  32. ^ "God Bless America: Leann Rimes: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  33. ^ a b "God Bless America / Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart: Leann Rimes: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-04-29. 
  34. ^ God Bless America/The National Anthem (Promotional CD single). LeAnn Rimes. Curb Records. 2001. D-1631 PRCD#510032. 
  35. ^ "God Bless America - LeAnn Rimes". Billboard.com. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  36. ^ "Lookin' Back overview". Allmusic.com. 
  37. ^ "Bob Baldwin". Yamaha.com. 
General References
  • Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003, ISBN 0060513047
  • Kashkowitz, Sheryl. God Bless Ameria: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song. Oxford Univ. Press, 2013, ISBN 978-0-19-991977-2

External links[edit]