God Bless America

Thursday's Editorial   —   Posted on September 8, 2011

GOD BLESS AMERICA:
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
God bless America, My home sweet home.

NOTE:  Originally, the final two lines of the song were, God bless America my own sweet home, my home sweet home.
Many renditions of the song omit the first stanza, beginning with “God bless America…”

Irving Berlin (May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989) was an American composer and lyricist of Jewish heritage, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history.

He wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits, which made him “a legend” before he turned thirty. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, with his songs nominated eight times for Academy Awards.

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

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “God Bless America” is commonly sung during the seventh-inning stretch in Major League Baseball games, most often on Sundays, Opening Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, All-Star Game, Labor Day, September 11, and all post-season Major League Baseball games.

Following the attacks, John Dever, then the Assistant Media Relations Director with the San Diego Padres, suggested the song replace “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, the more traditional 7th inning anthem. MLB quickly followed the Padres lead and instituted it league-wide for the rest of the season; presently, teams decide individually when to play the song.

Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Safeco Field, and Turner Field are currently the only Major League ballparks to play “God Bless America” in every game during the seventh-inning stretch. The Yankees’ YES Network and the Dodgers’ telecast on Fox Sports West televises its performance during some games before going to a commercial. During major games (playoff contests, Opening Day, national holidays, or games against Boston or the Mets), the Yankees will often have Irish tenor Ronan Tynan perform the song.

The Indianapolis 500 is traditionally run at the end of the month of May, and has sung “God Bless America” since 2003. The song “America the Beautiful” was sung before, but it was switched to “God Bless America” in the post-9/11 era. The song has traditionally been performed by Florence Henderson, a native Hoosier, and is a friend of the track’s owners the Hulman-George family. Her performance, often not televised, immediately precedes the national anthem.  Henderson routinely sings the entire song, including the prologue, and in some years, sings the chorus a second time.

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. In 2003, Dion performed it at Super Bowl, which was the first time that “God Bless America” was performed at a Super Bowl. (excerpted from wikipedia entries on “Irving Berlin” and “God Bless America”)

Listen to commentator Mark Steyn’s podcast on Irving Berlin’s song “God Bless America” at:
steynonline.com/content/view/4454/28

Questions

1.  Ask a parent if he/she remembers singing “God Bless America” in school or at a sporting event, etc. before 9/11.

2.  Ask a grandparent the same question.

3.  Read the “Background” below and watch the videos under “Resources.”  Do you think the song “God Bless America” was the right song to be sung after 9/11?  Explain your answer.


Background

IRVING BERLIN AND “GOD BLESS AMERICA”

  • America’s unofficial national anthem was composed by an immigrant who left his home in Siberia for America when he was only five years old.
  • The original version of “God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin (1888-1989) during the summer of 1918 at Camp Upton, located in Yaphank, Long Island, for his Ziegfeld-style revue, Yip, Yip, Yaphank.
  • “Make her victorious on land and foam, God Bless America…” ran the original lyric.
  • However, Berlin decided that the solemn tone of “God Bless America” was somewhat out of keeping with the more comedic elements of the show and the song was laid aside.
  • In the fall of 1938, as war was again threatening Europe, Berlin decided to write a “peace” song.
  • He recalled his “God Bless America” from twenty years earlier and made some alterations to reflect the different state of the world.
  • Singer Kate Smith introduced the revised “God Bless America” during her radio broadcast on Armistice Day, 1938.
  • The song was an immediate sensation; the sheet music was in great demand.
  • Berlin soon established the God Bless America Fund, dedicating the royalties to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. (from the Library of Congress website at loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm019.html

Resources

Read a biography on Irving Berlin at parlorsongs.com/bios/berlin/iberlin.php.

Watch a video of Celine Dion singing “God Bless America”:

Watch Irving Berlin sing the song he wrote: