The Fourth of July is coming up! And while some may associate it with fireworks and hot dogs, our mind goes to music. We’re not talking about “Party in the USA,” although that is an anthem in its own way. We are talking about songs that exemplify America . . . OTHER than “Party in the USA.” Let’s get to know these songs and the stories behind them.
1) “America the Beautiful”
“America the Beautiful” was first written as a poem by Katharine Lee Bates in 1895, and the melody came from church organist Samual A. Ward, though their stories are not connected.
Bates found the inspiration while on a cross-country train ride from Massachusetts to Colorado. She traveled through the wheat field of Kansas, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Once she got to her hotel room in Colorado, she wrote it all down, and it was later published on the Fourth of July.
Ward wrote the melody in 1882, before Bates even wrote the lyrics. He was inspired on the ferry ride from Coney Island to New York City. While he originally wrote the melody for a church hymn, it became the melody we know today as “America the Beautiful,” debuted in 1910. Unfortunately, Ward died in 1903 and never got to see the success of his melody.
2) “God Bless America”
“God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin while he was serving in World War I in 1918. It sat in his collection for a while, but during the start of World War II, Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, thought it was important to resurface this peaceful song. It was reintroduced on Armistice Day and made famous by Kate Smith’s performance.
3) “This Land is Your Land”
Arguably one of the most famous folk songs of all time, “This Land is Your Land” was written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 as a cheeky response to “God Bless America.” After hearing Berlin’s song over and over on the radio, Guthrie decided to write a response, originally titled "God Blessed America for Me,” later changed to “This Land is Your Land.”
4) “Stars and Stripes Forever”
“Stars in Stripes Forever” is ingrained in me eternally, and not just because it’s how I calculate 120bpm. It was originally written in 1896, and later became the Offical National March of the United States.
John Phillip Sousa wrote the march on Christmas Day 1896 while on an ocean liner headed back from a European vacation with his wife. What many people don’t know is that there are actually lyrics to the march, to no surprise, also very patriotic.
5) “The Star Spangled Banner”
“The Star Spangled Banner”—which you may know as the national anthem—was originally written by composer John Stafford around 1773. The lyrics come from the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key in 1814. His story has become a familiar one. Key was inspired to write the lyrics after he saw an American flag flying above Fort McHenry after the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812.
What you might not know is the song was not adopted as the national anthem until March of 1931, granted by President Herbert Hoover.
6) “My County ‘Tis of Thee”
Written by Samuel Francis Smith, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” acted as the de facto national anthem for years until Hoover named “The Star Spangled Banner” as the anthem in 1931.
Ironically, to the tune of Great Britain’s national anthem “God Save the Queen,” his version was debuted on the Fourth of July by a children’s choir in Boston in 1831.
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