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"God Bless America"
Song
Published 1918, 1938 (revised)
Genre Patriotic
Composer Irving Berlin

"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 the Judeo-Christian God's[citation needed] blessing and peace for the nation ("...stand beside her and guide her through the night...").

Contents

History

Berlin originally 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..."[1] as well as "Stand beside her and guide her, to the right with the light from above."

Music critic Jody Rosen comments that a 1906 Jewish dialect novelty song, "When Mose with His Nose Leads the Band", contains a six-note fragment that is "instantly recognizable as the opening strains of "God Bless America"". He interprets this as an example of Berlin's "habit of interpolating bits of half-remembered songs into his own numbers." [2] Berlin, born Israel Baline, had himself written several Jewish-themed novelty tunes.

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. [3] 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. In 1943, Smith's rendition was featured in the patriotic musical This Is the Army along with other Berlin songs. 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 and Girl Scouts of the USA.

Woody Guthrie disliked the song, and wrote "This Land Is Your Land," originally titled "God Blessed America For Me", as a response to "God Bless America". "This Land Is Your Land" has also often been proposed as a United States national anthem [4].

Later, from December 11, 1969,[3] 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),[3] long before it became a staple of nationwide sporting events.[3] The Flyers even brought Smith in to perform live before the final game of Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 19, 1974, and the Flyers won the Cup that day.[3]

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.

On August 26, 2008, a fan at a Boston Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium, who had attempted to leave for the restroom during the playing of the song, was restrained and ejected by NYPD officers. As part of the settlement of a subsequent lawsuit, the New York Yankees announced that they would no longer restrict the movement of fans during the playing of the song.[5]

At Chicago's Wrigley Field, during the Vietnam War, the song was often played by the organist as part of his post-game playlist, while fans filed out of the stadium.[6]

On September 15, 2009, three high school teens filed a lawsuit against New Jersey's minor league Newark Bears for being ejected from Eagles Riverfront Stadium over their refusal to stand during the playing of "God Bless America" on June 29, 2009. Before being ejected, they were asked to leave the stadium by Bears' president and co-owner Thomas Cetnar.[7]

Traditional Lyrics

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.

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Performances and notable versions

"God Bless America" is often sung at sporting events, recitals, and other public events where national anthems are sung, sometimes in place of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

September 11

During a live television broadcast on the evening of the September 11 attacks, following addresses by then-House and Senate leaders Dennis Hastert and Tom Daschle, members of the United States Congress broke out into an apparently spontaneous verse of "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.[8]

Sports events

NHL

"God Bless America" has been performed at home games of the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers and those of the Ottawa Senators in which the visiting team is from the United States. (The NHL requires arenas in both the U.S. and Canada to perform both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada," the Canadian national anthem, at games that involve teams from both countries.[9])

At some Flyers' home games, their main anthem singer, Lauren Hart has sung "God Bless America" alternating lyrics with Kate Smith on a video screen. Kate Smith actually appeared in person to sing at select Flyers games, including their 1974 Stanley Cup clinching game against the Boston Bruins, to which she received a thunderous ovation from the infamously fickle Philadelphia fans. To this day, whenever the Flyers play the video of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America", the fans will not boo any play until well into the game.

At some Senators' home games since 2000,[10] if the visiting team is from the U.S., their main anthem singer, Ontario Provincial Police Constable Lyndon Slewidge, has sung "God Bless America" and "O Canada."[10] An example of this came during the Senators' home opener during the 2002-03 season, when they were home against the New Jersey Devils.[11]

Major League Baseball

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "God Bless America" has commonly been sung during the seventh-inning stretch in Sunday (as well as Opening Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, All-Star Game, Labor Day, September 11 and all post-season) Major League Baseball games. Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium are currently the only Major League ballparks to play "God Bless America" in every game during the seventh-inning stretch. The Yankees' YES Network televises its performance during each game before going to a commercial.

Celine Dion

"God Bless America"
Single by Céline Dion
from the album God Bless America
Released October 24, 2001 (2001-10-24)
Format Radio single
Genre Pop
Length 3:47
Label Columbia, Epic
Writer(s) Irving Berlin
Producer David Foster
Céline Dion singles chronology
"Don't Save It All for Christmas Day"
(2000)
"God Bless America"
(2001)
"Sous le vent"
(2001)

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Canadian pop star Celine Dion performed the song on the TV special America: A Tribute to Heroes. Shortly afterwards on October 16, Sony Music Entertainment released a benefit album called God Bless America, which featured Dion singing the song. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and became the first charity album to reach the top since USA for Africa's "We Are the World" in 1985.[12] Céline Dion's version also received enough radio airplay to reach number 14 on Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. The music video was made and aired in September 2001. Dion performed the song also few times during 2002. In 2003, she performed it at Super Bowl, which was the first time that "God Bless America" was performed at a Super Bowl.[13] She sang it on July 4, 2004 in her A New Day... show as well. "God Bless America" performed by Dion exists in two versions, live and studio. Both included on collections to gather funds for the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and their families. The live version, on America: A Tribute to Heroes, is from the telethon event of the same name that took place on September 21, 2001. The studio version is on the God Bless America album, a patriotic songs CD. It was recorded on September 20, 2001, the day before the American telethon. It was meant to be a replacement for the performance in the event something happened and Dion couldn't appear.

Daniel Rodriguez

The song was recorded by New York City's "singing cop", Daniel Rodriguez, and charted for one week at number 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single. Before the 2001 versions, the last time "God Bless America" had been a Billboard chart hit was in 1959, when Connie Francis reached number 36 with her version (the B-side of her Top 10 hit "Among My Souvenirs").

Use in media

  • The song was sung by the main characters in Michael Cimino's 1978 war film The Deer Hunter. Regarding the song in the film, Roger Ebert says in his March 9, 1979 review: "It [the film] ends on a curious note: The singing of "God Bless America". I won't tell you how it arrives at that particular moment... but I do want to observe that the lyrics of "God Bless America" have never before seemed to me to contain such an infinity of possible meanings, some tragic, some unspeakably sad, some few still defiantly hopeful".
  • The song is prominently featured in the film Once Upon a Time in America, where it is played during a murder at the beginning of the picture.
  • In the pilot episode of All in the Family, after Archie Bunker was disgusted with Michael "Meathead" Stivic's statement that he is an atheist, Archie stood up and sang a butchered version of "God Bless America" while Michael was screaming at Archie.
  • Charlie Daniels' 1980 single "In America" clearly plays off of the original "God Bless America".

Parodies

The song has spawned numerous parodies.

  • An irreverent version of the lyrics was printed in the book The MAD World of William M. Gaines, by Frank Jacobs (1972). MAD magazine's veteran art editor, John Putnam, had prepared some copy and sent it to the printers; the word "America" was divided, with a hyphen, at the end of one line. The copy was returned to Putnam by the typesetting foreman, who explained that his union had a rule forbidding the splitting of that word. Putnam obliged, and rewrote the copy, and sent it back with this enclosure:

Don't break "America";
Land we extol;
Don't deface it;
Upper-case it;
Keep it clean, keep it pure, keep it whole;
In Bodoni, in Futura,
In Old English, in Cabell--
Don't break "America"--
Or we'll—raise—hell!

  • A version called "God Bless My Underwear" is popular with schoolchildren at summer camps. "I am an Anglican" is sung as an Episcopal church camp song. A midwestern version refers to Lutherans, a mid-Atlantic one to Presbyterians.[14]
  • "God Bless America" spawned another of Irving Berlin's tunes, "Heaven Watch The Philippines", during the end of World War II, after he heard the Filipinos sang a slightly revised version of the song replacing "America" with "The Philippines".

God Bless America!

An earlier and much more obscure song called "God Bless America!" was written by Robert Montgomery Bird and published in 1834. Sheet music for this version is available online from the Library of Congress. The lyrics begin:

God bless the land that gave us birth!
No pray'r but this know we.
God bless the land, of all the earth,
The happy and the free.
And where's the land like ours can brave
The splendor of the day.
And find no son of hers a slave?
God bless America!
God bless the land, the land beloved
Forever and for aye!
God bless the land that gave us birth.
God bless America!

External links

References

  1. ^ LOC.gov
  2. ^ http://www.rebootstereophonic.com/index.php?site=rebootst&page=st_jewface&id=117
  3. ^ a b c d e "Flyers History - Kate Smith" FlyersHistory.com, 2007, webpage: FHistory-Kate.
  4. ^ http://www.docstoc.com/docs/6303117/God_Bless_America
  5. ^ "Yankees Settle ‘God Bless America’ Case, Won’t Restrict Spectators' Movements During Song". nyclu.org. July 7, 2009. http://www.nyclu.org/node/2500. Retrieved September 11, 2009. 
  6. ^ "Monday's act heroic after 30 years Outfielder recalls protecting country's honor from protesters". chicago.cubs.mlb.com. April 25, 2006. http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20060424&content_id=1415977&vkey=news_chc&fext=.jsp&c_id=chc. Retrieved April 25, 2006. 
  7. ^ "Teens Sue Over Minor League Ejection". news.aol.com. September 15, 2009. http://news.aol.com/article/new-jersey-teens-sue-over-god-bless/669467?icid=main. Retrieved September 15, 2009. 
  8. ^ Jonathan Karl (12 September 2001). "Congress vows unity, reprisals for attacks". CNN. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/11/congress.terrorism/. 
  9. ^ Allen, Kevin (2003-03-23). "NHL Seeks to Stop Booing For a Song". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/hockey/nhl/2003-03-23-anthem-booing_x.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  10. ^ a b "Shots From the Point". The Ottawa Citizen: p. F3. November 4, 2000. "Renowned anthem singer Lyndon Slewidge also sounds a bit different, with a new background music accompanying his lyrics to O Canada. He will also substitute God Save America for The Star Spangled Banner on selected occasions." 
  11. ^ New Jersey Devils Hockey: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators. [radio]. New Jersey Devils Radio (WABC Talk Radio 77 AM (New York)). 2002-10-10. 
  12. ^ Glatzer, Jenna (2005). Céline Dion: For Keeps. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 0-7407-5559-5. 
  13. ^ Hooper, Barrett (January 24, 2003). "Man, it feels like a great show". National Post: p. A3. "Marc Anthony and Mary J. Blige sang "America the Beautiful," which was also performed at Super Bowl XXXV by Ray Charles and at "Super Bowl XI" by Vicki Carr. This is the first time for God Bless America, which Ms. Dion will perform to a prerecorded music track and to backing vocals by a large choir." 
  14. ^ Scoutsongs.com

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