You're a Grand Old Flag

George M. Cohan, 1906

What words describe the mood of this song? What kind of song is it? March. Close your eyes and imagine this song being played. In what circumstances do you imagine it being appropriate? When would this be an inappropriate patriotic song?

What was the appeal of this song in 1906? Flag Day and the Pledge of Allegiance also started then. What might explain this surge of patriotism in peacetime? The United States becoming a world power; influx of immigrants.

This song refers to the flag as "the emblem of the land I love." What other patriotic song revolve around the flag? "The Star-Spangled Banner," "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "The Battle Cry of Freedom." This song quotes several other songs. What are they? "Dixie's Land," "Marching Through Georgia," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Auld Lang Syne," "The Star-Spangled Banner." Why are they used?

What are other emblems of the United States? Where do we see these symbols? What attributes of the nation is each of these symbols associated with? Is the flag a more universal symbol than the others? Why? What makes it easier to adapt the flag to almost any circumstance, from parades to funerals to battles?

Why do people feel it is wrong to burn the flag? Do you agree? Should there be a constitutional amendment forbidding flag desecration? Would it conflict with the first amendment?


"The Grand Old Rag" performed by Billy Murray on The Billy Murray Anthology: The Denver Nightingale, St. Joseph, IL: Archeophone Records, © 2003. Available on iTunes, Spotify, on YouTube.

Billy Murray (1877–1954) made this recording in 1906. It retains the original vaudeville text "grand old rag" and highlights some of the interesting features of this song. The accompaniment uses characteristic marching band (e.g., military) instruments. Other patriotic melodies appear throughout the song, for example a short quote of "Auld Lang Syne" is heard in the introduction, while "Dixie's Land" ("Way down south in the land of cotton") and "Marching Through Georgia" ("Hurrah! Hurrah!") are referred to in the text as well as the music.

View the lyrics for "You're A Grand Old Flag."

View the published score.

George M. Cohan, ca. 1918
George M. Cohan

George Cohan composed this song for his musical George Washington, Jr. Reportedly, the text initially read "you're a grand old rag" and was sung while Cohan wrapped the flag around himself. Audiences felt he was insulting the flag, however, so he changed the text to "you're a grand old flag."

This song was especially popular at the time due to the general increase in nationalistic activities. The Pledge of Allegiance, for example, was becoming standard in classrooms and Flag Day was first proclaimed in 1916 (though it wouldn't be officially celebrated until 1949). The establishment of these nationalistic symbols was instrumental in increasing the patriotic zeal evident in this song.

Tar: Sailor.

GAR: Grand Army of the Republic, another name for the Union army.

Compare this song to:

"The Star-Spangled Banner" (Unit 3)

"The Battle Cry of Freedom"

"The Stars and Stripes Forever" (Unit 5)

Write lyrics using one of our other emblems: the eagle, Uncle Sam, Liberty, or the liberty bell.

Create a poster that says visually what this song says musically.

"The New Collossus" by Emma Lazarus