This month we celebrate the birth of our great nation. The Declaration of Independence was signed 238 years ago, July 4, 1776. What better way to celebrate than to sing and play our cherished and endeared national patriotic songs? These songs tell the story of our republic from an historical, cultural, traditional, and sometimes religious, background.
The songs all have a strong vigorous, patriotic content. Some of the lyrics come from poems and some from prose but all espouse heartfelt feelings about our country and what it stands for. There are many different songs in the patriotic repertoire but this writing will be limited to four pieces of historical significance.
The Star-Spangled Banner, our National Anthem, is without a doubt, the most sung and played patriotic piece in America. This song is played and sung at so many occasions, including athletic events, meetings, concerts, graduations, Olympic games and other events too numerous to mention. Every elementary school child usually knows the words to the anthem. It is not however, the easiest song to sing as it has a range of one and a half octaves.
Most people think that Francis Scott Key, (1780-1843) a lawyer and amateur poet, was the composer of the anthem; on the contrary he was the author of the words and not the music. The words came from a poem entitled, Defense of Fort McHenry. The poem was inspired by the War of 1812. Key witnessed the bombardment of the fort by British ships in Chesapeake Bay.
The music was written by British composer John Stafford Smith (1750-1835), some years before, for a men’s social club. Some musicologists say it was from an old English drinking song. The Star-Spangled Banner was not officially adopted as the national anthem until 1931 by a congressional resolution and signed by President Herbert Hoover. The tune was used for years before it officially became our national anthem.
America the Beautiful, one America’s most popular and beloved patriotic songs was composed by Samuel A. Ward (1847-1903), a church organist and choirmaster. The words were by Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), an English professor at Wellesley College. The text was inspired by her trip to Colorado and the sights along the way. The original title of the poem was Pike’s Peak. In 1895 it was published under the title, America.
Written In 1882, the music was originally titled, Materna for the hymn, O Mother Dear, Jerusalem. Ward died before the music was combined with Bates poem in 1904. Bates, however, lived to see the popularity of the song as she died in 1929. Some wanted it to be the national anthem as it was easier to sing.
God Bless America, to many people, surely is America’s second national anthem. Irving Berlin (1888-1989) wrote the first rendition while he was in the United States Army in 1918. His intention was to inspire his fellow man to live in peace and tranquility with one another. Kate Smith (1909 – 1986), a vaudeville singer and known as “The First Lady of Radio,” was largely responsible in making the song an immense national sensation. She sang God Bless America on November 11, 1938, the 20th anniversary of the end of World War I, on an Armistice Day radio broadcast.
Everyone was singing and playing it. Sheet music flew off the shelves. It is sung at major league ballgames in the seventh inning stretch and has been for many years. Berlin established a trust that gave proceeds from the song to the Boy and Girl Scouts. Woody Guthrie did not like it and wrote, This Land is Your Land, in protest. After 9-11 God Bless America took on a new popularity instilling pride and patriotism in the country.
The Stars and Stripes Forever, our national march, is said to be John Philip Sousa’s most well-known work. The Stars and Stripes Forever, is by far the most popular march ever written, and it’s popularity is by no means limited to the United States,” stated Paul Bierley in The Works of John Philip Sousa.
Sousa wrote the details of its creation in his autobiography, Marching Along. “Aboard the steamship, Teutonic, as it steamed out of the harbor on my return from Europe in 1896, came one of the most vivid incidents of my career… suddenly I began to sense the rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain…,” he wrote. “That imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing the most distinct melody. When we reached the shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.” This was the brainchild that produced the most famous march ever written.
America is richly blessed with many wonderful patriotic songs but these are at the top of the lists in filling our hearts and minds with love and devotion to our great nation.
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