Do you know the story behind these 7 patriotic songs?
Posted July 4, 2016
WalletHub has released a new infographic to help illustrate what the Fourth of July holiday has evolved into — among the statistics listed are the 150 million hot dogs Americans will consume as part of Independence Day festivities, and a 42 percent decrease in air quality due to fireworks.
The infographic also helps reveal a strong sense of national patriotism. For instance, 86 places in the U.S. have "independence", "freedom", "liberty" or "eagle" in their names, and about 64 percent of citizens own an American flag.
Still, if you're having a difficult time feeling patriotic this year, here are seven songs with some brief history to help you get in the mood.
Lowell Mason, famous for his arrangement of "Joy to the World," is considered a forefather of music education in America. At a Massachusetts Baptist school in 1831, Mason asked 24-year-old seminary student Samuel Francis Smith to translate some German song books.
According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, one of the songs Smith worked on was "God Bless Our Native Land," also known as "God Save the Queen (King)." Smith liked the melody so much that he eventually wrote original lyrics so Americans could have a version of their own.
The first known performance of Smith's song was by a children's choir in Boston on July 4, 1831. Unfortunately, that was just a few years before YouTube was available. But the good news is that Kelly Clarkson sang the song at President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2013.
In 1861, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe toured Union army camps as part of his work with the Sanitary Commission. Dr. Howe's work involved improving the health and hygiene of the burgeoning Union army, according to Shmoop. Dr. Howe's wife, Julia Ward Howe, felt out of place in the camps because she had neither the skills nor training to be of much help.
Army members in these camps often marched to the beat of "John Brown's Body," a spin on an old Methodist hymn. During a ride through an army camp, one of the passengers in the Howes' coach suggested that Julia Ward Howe rewrite the lyrics to the marching song.
The next morning, Howe awoke and “to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain.”
Inspiration from on high was granted Katharine Lee Bates when, in 1893, she climbed Pike's Peak in Colorado. From the top she said, “I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse," according to The Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Almost immediately her mind conjured up the words to her poem that would later become one of the songs in the running for our national anthem, along with "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." Today you can visit the monument on Pike's Peak commemorating Bates' achievement.
Broadway made George M. Cohan a star, but sheet music made him a legend, according to the Library of Congress. "You're a Grand Old Flag" sold over a million copies of sheet music, making it one of the most popular patriotic songs during World War I.
As part of his 1906 musical "George Washington, Jr.," Cohan wrote a song inspired by an encounter he'd had with a Civil War veteran. The veteran carried a folded, worn flag, and told Cohan, "She's a grand old rag."
Yes, the Neil Diamond song. While maybe not consistently mentioned with such classics already mentioned in this list, the Jazz Singer's hit centers around immigration, a theme as applicable when the song was released in 1980 as it is today. In fact, the song has been used by some immigrants as an unofficial anthem in their journey to America, like this man who escaped apartheid in South Africa, as reported by NPR.
Even if not for its powerful theme, "America" deserves a place on this list because it was one of the featured songs during Fourth of July festivities in 1986 to celebrate the restoration and rededication of the Statue of Liberty on its 100th anniversary. (If you can just disregard Diamond's dancing in the video.)
The official march of the United States is also John Philip Sousa's most famous composition. Growing up during the Civil War, Sousa was surrounded by music. He followed in his father's footsteps when he joined the U.S. Marine Band as a young man, eventually becoming bandleader. But "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was not borne out of preparation for battle. In fact, he composed it upon returning to from a European vacation with his wife, according to PBS.
He explained later in detail what was happening in his mind as his cruise ship headed toward the east coast: "Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed."
The Star-Spangled Banner
Of course, no list of patriotic American songs would be complete without our national anthem.
In the War of 1812, America and Great Britain fought over a series of trade disagreements. In September 1814, still months away from the end of the war, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied an American diplomat to negotiate the release of a prisoner-of-war. The negotiations took place on a British warship and, while they were successful, British officials feared the American men had heard too much about their plans to attach Fort McHenry in nearby Baltimore. As such, the men were forced to stay aboard a truce ship until after the attack.
According to the Smithsonian, Key watched the 50-ship British fleet pummel the Massachusetts fort all night. “It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone,” Key wrote later. In the morning, he saw an American flag still standing at the top of the fort, indicating a victory for the U.S. The poem already forming in his mind was originally titled "The Defence of Fort M'Henry." It was later put to a British tune, but it wasn't adopted as the national anthem until 1931.
If you're a fan of your entire body turning into goosebumps because of rousing music, here's what Billboard has called the best performance of the national anthem of all time, Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl.