My Country, 'Tis of Thee

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Sheet music[1]

"My Country, 'Tis of Thee", also known as simply "America", is an American patriotic song, the lyrics of which were written by Samuel Francis Smith.[2] The song served as one of the de facto national anthems of the United States (along with songs like "Hail, Columbia") before the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the official U.S. national anthem in 1931.[3] The melody used is adopted from the national anthem of the United Kingdom, "God Save the King".


Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to "America" in 1831[4] while a student at the Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. The use of the same melody as the British royal anthem can be described as a contrafactum which reworks this symbol of British monarchy to make a statement about American democracy.[5]

Well-known composer Lowell Mason had requested that Smith translate or provide new lyrics for a collection of German songs, among them one written to this melody. Smith gave Mason the lyrics he had written, and the song was first performed in public on July 4, 1831,[4] at a children's Independence Day celebration at Park Street Church in Boston. The first publication of "America" was in 1832.[4]


An abolitionist version was written, by A. G. Duncan, 1843, with lyrics mentioning white and black races.[6] For Washington's Centennial celebration, another verse was added to the original version.[7]

Notable performances[edit]

Aretha Franklin (age 66) singing "My Country, 'Tis Of Thee" at the first inauguration of Barack Obama (20 January 2009)

Marian Anderson performed the song at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. Anderson, an African American singer, had been forbidden to perform at the DAR Constitution Hall due to its racist whites-only policy. After a national outcry, and with support from Eleanor Roosevelt, the concert was held on the steps of the memorial, and attracted a crowd of more than 75,000 in addition to a national radio audience of millions.[8]

Martin Luther King Jr. recited the first verse of the song toward the end of his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.[9]

Crosby, Stills & Nash performed the song on the first episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that aired after the September 11 attacks in 2001.[10]

On January 20, 2009, Aretha Franklin sang the song at the first inauguration of Barack Obama.[11] Kelly Clarkson sang it at his second inauguration.[12]

See also[edit]

Other texts set to the same music:

Organ variations by Charles Ives:


  1. ^ Free scores of "My country, 'tis of thee" #16830 in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki), PDF
  2. ^ "My Country, 'Tis of Thee". The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Archived from the original on December 7, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  3. ^ Snyder, Lois Leo (1990). Encyclopedia of Nationalism. Paragon House. p. 13. ISBN 1-55778-167-2.
  4. ^ a b c Garraty, John A. & Carnes, Mark C., eds. (1999). American National Biography. Vol. 20. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 281.
  5. ^ Fassler, Margot Elsbeth (2014). Music in the Medieval West (First ed.). New York. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-393-92915-7. Examples of contrafacta abound in many times and cultures. My Country, 'Tis of Thee, for instance, is a contrafactum of an earlier English anthem, God Save the King, and the reworking makes a statement about American democracy.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Jarius Lincoln, [ed.] Antislavery Melodies: for The Friends of Freedom. Prepared for the Hingham Antislavery Society. Words by A. G. Duncan. (Hingham, [Mass.]: Elijah B. Gill, 1843), Hymn 17 6s & 4s (Tune – "America") pp. 28–29.
    Some of these verses can be heard in the recording of the Arizona State University Antislavery Ensemble. "My Country ‘Tis of Thee" (Vimeo). Arizona State University – Department of English. March 1, 2006. Retrieved May 17, 2019..
  7. ^ Andrews, E. Benjamin (1912). History of the United States. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  8. ^ Hansen, Jacqueline (2005). "Marian Anderson, Voice of the Century". United States Postal Service. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved August 5, 2007.
  9. ^ Hansen, Drew D. (2003). The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation. New York: Harper Collins. p. 83.
  10. ^ Keveney, Bill (September 19, 2001). "Audience identifies with low-key Leno". USA Today. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
  11. ^ Ryan, Patrick; Dinges, Gary (January 19, 2021). "10 best inauguration performances of all time, including Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé". USA Today. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  12. ^ "Kelly Clarkson Sings 'My Country 'Tis of Thee' at Inauguration 2013". Wall Street Journal. January 21, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2022.


External links[edit]