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America's Patriotic Songbook -- Songs For The 4th Of July

Jul 2, 2008
Nothing stirs the heart of a patriot in the United States like fireworks accompanied by a rousing rendition of God Bless America. The top songs of America are some of the most easily recognized pieces of music in the Western world. "America the Beautiful," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" are well-known and well-loved songs. They all have histories as rich and colorful as the nation they praise.

The words for "America the Beautiful" were written in 1893 by an English professor from Wellesley College named Katharine Lee Bates on a train trip to Colorado Springs. She was inspired by the sights outside her window, and she put her thoughts down on paper. It was published two years later in commemoration of the Fourth of July. The poem caught the public's attention, and the words were adapted to a tune from composer Samuel A. Ward, which was written in 1882. The song attained great popularity during the first two decades of the 20th century.

The tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was written in approximately 1855 by William Steffe. The lyrics were different, and it was used as a campfire spiritual. An early version of the lyrics were written by Thomas Bishop around 1860, and they were used as a walking song entitled "John Brown's Body" by the Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe heard the song and changed the lyrics to the ones widely known today. It was originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.

"God Bless America" was written by Irving Berlin in 1918. Berlin revised the song in 1938, and it then became a signature song of vocalist Kate Smith. He revived the song as World War II loomed on the horizon in the hopes of building national morale. Berlin wrote the song while serving in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in New York. The song inspired Woody Guthrie to write another classic American anthem, "This Land is Your Land," in 1940.

Many other patriotic songs are popular, but "The Star Spangled Banner" is the official national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key as Royal Navy ships bombed Fort McHenry in Maryland during the War of 1812. The tune comes from a popular British drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven." It was composed by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a popular social club in London. It was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889. "Hail, Columbia" and various other songs previously served as the national anthem over the years, but they all paled in comparison to this moving tune. The song was officially designated as the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931, which was then signed by President Herbert Hoover. It is often sung at the beginning of sporting event, holidays and official state events.

Patriotic songs are as much a part of the rich tapestry of America as apple pie and baseball games. In fact, they often go hand in hand.
About the Author
Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"
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