Sunday, July 3, 2011


Even though the Star Spangled Banner has been our national anthem for generations, I personally feel that the song "God Bless America" is more loved and admired. Every 4th of July I try to listen to recordings of the song, and I am filled with a sense of pride for all this country has meant to millions of people.

"God Bless America" is an American patriotic song written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and revised by him in 1938, as sung by Kate Smith (becoming her signature song)."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...").

Berlin wrote the song in 1918 while serving in 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. The lyrics at that time included the line, "Make her victorious on land and foam, God bless America..." as well as "Stand beside her and guide her, to the right with the light from above."

In 1938, with the rise of Hitler, Berlin, who was Jewish and a first-generation European 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. 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."

More than just the dramatic words and melody, the arrangement for Kate Smith's performance was accompanied by full band, progressing into a grand march tempo, with trumpets triple reinforcing the harmonies between stanzas: the dramatic build-up ends on the final exposed high note, which Kate Smith sang in the solo as a sustained a cappella note, with the band then joining for the finale.

The song was a hit; there was even a movement to make "God Bless America" the national anthem of the United States. However, there was strong opposition by conservative southerners as well as conservatives who lived in rural areas where there were no Jews living in it, stating that because Irving Berlin was a foreigner and a Jew, that they would not accept their national anthem to be composed by a member of the minority class Congress would have had to repeal the "Star Spangled Banner" in both houses by two-thirds of the votes.

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. She 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.

Later, from December 11, 1969, through the early 1970s, the playing of Smith singing the song before many of 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),long before it became a staple of nationwide sporting events. 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.

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.

During this 4th of July, I hope more people will listen to this song and realize that despite its problems and mistakes, the United States Of America is a wonderful place to live in and to enjoy its many freedoms...

1 comment:

  1. I never fail to get chills, and get a little teary eyed, when Kate hits that last note. I'm not even American!