This week for Song Lyric Sunday, host Jim Adams, has given us the prompts Alluring, Beautiful, Charming, Graceful and Seductive. For my choice I have decided in America the Beautiful by the late, great Ray Charles. I hope you enjoy it, especially the video of him opening for the Yankees v Diamondbacks World Series Game 2 in 2001. It came just weeks after the 9/11 attacks and the country was still reeling from the terrible tragedy. It was a time of such sadness and Charles gave a very moving rendition of the song.
The lyric to “America The Beautiful” was written by a Wellesley College English professor named Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote it as a poem that was first published in 1895. At the time, the term “America” was rarely used in reference to the United States (it does not appear in the “The Star-Spangled Banner”), but over the next few years, when the country claimed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Cuba, Guam and Hawaii as overseas territories, it was much more than a collection of states and better described as an empire known as America. This song helped popularize the term, which Theodore Roosevelt used regularly when he became president in 1901.
To this point, most patriotic songs referred to the United States as “Columbia,” which was the female personification of the country (“Hail, Columbia” and “Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean” are examples), and presidents hardly ever referred to “America,” although “American” was commonly used as an adjective.
“America The Beautiful” became a song in 1926 when the poem was combined with the music of a hymn written by Samuel Ward called “Materna” for a contest by the National Federation of Music Clubs. It remained the most popular “America” song until Kate Smith recorded Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” in 1938.
Many Americans feel this should be their National Anthem, rather than the “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Many artists have recorded this, including Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, but Charles’ version is the most famous.
Bates was inspired by the beauty of nature during a lecture tour in Colorado Springs.
She recalled just before her death in 1929: “One day, some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there.”
She continued: “We stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit, hallowed by the worship of perished races, and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse… It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind.”
The poem first appeared in a Boston church publication called The Congregationalist on July 4, 1895, with the editor’s introductory note: “Miss Bates’s poem has the true patriotic ring pertinent to Fourth of July.”
The original poem described the skies as “halcyon” instead of spacious and the plain as “enameled” instead of fruited.
According to Mark Steyn’s A Song for the Season, Samuel Ward wrote the music that would eventually accompany “America the Beautiful” after a particularly thrilling visit to Coney Island.
On May 25, 1986, millions of Americans joined hands to form a human chain across the country (with sizable gaps) as part of Hands Across America, an effort to ease hunger and homelessness in America. At 3 p.m. Eastern Time, participants began singing “We Are The World,” followed by “America The Beautiful” and the event’s theme song.
Oh beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife Who more than self, our country loved And mercy more than life America, America may God thy gold refine Til all success be nobleness And every gain divined And you know when I was in school We used to sing it something like this, listen here Oh beautiful, for spacious skies For amber waves of grain For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain But now wait a minute, I'm talking about America, sweet America You know, God done shed his grace on thee He crowned thy good, yes he did, in brotherhood From sea to shining sea You know, I wish I had somebody to help me sing this (America, America, God shed his grace on thee) America, I love you America, you see My God he done shed his grace on thee And you oughta love him for it Cause he, he, he ,he crowned thy good He told me he would, with brotherhood (From sea to shining Sea) Oh lord, oh lord, I thank you Lord (Shining sea) Lyrics from a song in Public Domain