‘God Bless America’ – Google it!

Justin Kollmeyer's picture

The following is a direct quote from an article entitled “God Bless America, Land That I Love” by Richard K. Hayes at www.katesmith.org. It has a wealth of wonderful information.

“Today’s younger generations may not be familiar with the origin and history of the song Irving Berlin considered his most important composition. It was written during the First World War, for an army camp show where Berlin was stationed: Camp Yaphank on Long Island. The show’s producers rejected it as too jingoistic, so Berlin placed it in a trunk of rejected manuscripts.

“There it lay for twenty years, until Ted Collins, manager of popular singer Kate Smith, approached Irving Berlin for a new patriotic song for Kate to introduce to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. Berlin had recently returned from a trip to England, during which he was saddened to see signs of another war in the making. He was more thankful than ever to come back to his peaceful adopted homeland (his family had come to America from Russia when Irving was a small boy), so he was motivated to answer Collins’ request, on Kate’s behalf.

“After several days of futile attempts to write a new patriotic song, Berlin remembered the one he had written in 1918. He asked his secretary to retrieve it from the trunk, and he made a few changes to the lyrics. One was from ‘Stand beside her and guide her/ To the right with a light from above’ to ‘through the night,’ since ‘right wing’ and ‘left wing’ had taken on political connotations in the interim. The line ‘From the mountains to the prairies/To the oceans white with foam’ had originally been ‘From the green fields of Virginia to the gold fields out in Nome,’ a decided improvement!

“Now Kate Smith was the No. I popular songstress in America in 1938, and her weekly Kate Smith Hour was heard by many millions of radio listeners that Thursday, November 10. The shy composer was invited to attend the show, but he declined, opting to listen with a few friends in his office at his music publishing company in New York. Kate sang it as her closing number, after which Berlin’s phone began to ring, as people began to ask, ‘Where can we get that song that Kate Smith just sang?’ Berlin was so touched by those calls that he decided to attend the rebroadcast three hours later for the west coast audience. At the conclusion of the broadcast, Kate called Irving to the stage and gave him a bearhug that swept him off his feet!

“The new anthem electrified the nation and Kate sang it on nearly every broadcast through December 1940, after which there was a ban on public performances of ASCAP songs. She had exclusive performance rights for a time. She recorded it for RCA Victor on March 21, 1939, and that version has been reissued countless times over the years.

“The lyrics were inserted into the Congressional Record, and there was a movement to make the song our national anthem. Kate addressed Congress, imploring its members not to do that. She argued that the Star Spangled Banner was written during a battle (Francis Scott Key wrote it during the War of 1812). It fact, she recorded it on the flip side of God Bless America.”

In addition to this information in Hayes’ article on Kate Smith, we also know that “God Bless America” has been sung “to honor America” at countless hockey, baseball, and football games. It has been sung at Nascar races and political party National Conventions. It has echoed time and time again in churches and at patriotic events. Though perhaps not “perfect theology,” it certainly provides a stirring point of contact between our national pride and our faith in God.

(Spoken) While 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:

(Sung) God bless America, land that I love,

Stand beside her and guide her

Through the night with the light from above.

From the mountains to the prairies,

To the oceans white with foam.

God bless America, my home sweet home.

I add this personal note and request: I believe that God has blessed America and will continue to do so. There is no doubt in my mind that God has a special purpose for America. We have been given much, and much is rightfully expected of us. Please join me this coming 4th of July weekend in this great prayer for our great nation: “God Bless America!”

Kollmeyer is Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, located between Lowe’s and The Pavilion on Hwy. 314 in Fayetteville. Summer Worship is at 9:30 (Contemporary) and 11 a.m. (Traditional), with an 8 a.m. Outdoor Service each first and third Sunday of the month through the summer. More info www.princeofpeacefayette.com or 770-461-3403.