God Bless America

Irving Berlin, 1917 (revised version 1938)

This song became an instant hit when released on Armistice Day, 1938. Why was it so popular that year?

What "storm clouds gathered across the sea" in 1938? Hitler beginning his takeover of Europe. What other challenges did America face in 1938?

In what voice is the song written? First person. How does the language of this song add to its emotional appeal? What other words make this song seem very personal? "My home, sweet home;" "land that I love," use of "her,"…

Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" (which originally contained the refrain "God blessed America for me") in response to "God Bless America." What do you think Guthrie disliked about this song?

This song was widely performed after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Even members of Congress sang it on the steps of the Capitol the night of the disaster. Why do you think people at that time were drawn to "God Bless America" over other patriotic songs?

"God Bless America" performed by Kate Smith from the original soundtrack recording of This is the Army (1943). Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

Kate Smith (1907–86) was a radio singer. When her manager asked Irving Berlin to write a new hit for her, the songwriter turned to “God Bless America,” which he had written in 1917 but never used. Smith introduced the song on the air on November 11, 1938, to mark the twentieth anniversary of Armistice Day. She not only boosted her popularity but established the song’s as well.

Most recordings do not include Irving Berlin’s original verse (“While the storm clouds gather, far across the sea”). These lyrics can be heard, though, in the film This Is the Army, in which Smith recreates the 1938 radio premiere of the song.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/irving_berlin/
god_bless_america.html

Irving Berlin
Irving Berlin

Born Israel Baline in 1888 in Czarist Russia to a Cantor in a Jewish settlement, Irving Berlin (1888–1989) was brought to New York when he was five. He spent his youth working as a singing waiter in the Bowery and began writing song lyrics to attract more customers. His first song was published in 1907 when he was working successfully as a "song plugger," promoting new songs in sheet-music stores. Berlin eventually began writing his own tunes, although he was unable to read music and needed assistance. In 1919 he established the Irving Berlin Music Corporation to publish his own works. He eventually wrote the scores for 19 Broadway shows, 18 motion pictures, as well as over 800 songs in a broad range of musical styles.

Berlin originally wrote this song in 1917 while in the military for his show Yip Yip! Yaphank!, but he did not use it. When Berlin revised the song in 1938 for Kate Smith, he added the initial lines referring to the impending Second World War. The chorus, however, is what most people know as the whole song.

Once it was suggested that this song replace the "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem, but Berlin refused. Instead, he assigned all royalties from the song to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America as a charitable gesture. This song also provided the inspiration for Woody Guthrie to write "This Land is Your Land" (VAT Unit 8) which originally contained the refrain: "God blessed America for me."

Should "God Bless America" replace the "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem, as some suggest? What characteristics should a national anthem have? Assign small groups to evaluate a different patriotic song on its suitability as a national anthem. Each group should list pros and cons of each song, then make a persuasive speech to the class, nominating it as the national anthem. Then, conduct a poll about which should be the national anthem.

Write to your representatives in Congress, explaining your choice.