What is God Bless America?

Cathy Rogers

"God Bless America" is the unofficial patriotic anthem of the United States of America. First composed by Irving Berlin in 1918, the song was not introduced to the public until singer Kate Smith performed the song in a revised form in 1938 during a radio broadcast. An immediate success, the sheet music to "God Bless America" was in extreme demand and the broadcast is considered to be a historic event.

Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America" during World War I.
Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America" during World War I.

Berlin, a Siberian immigrant, wrote the original version of the song during the First World War, where he was stationed at Camp Upton, Long Island, New York. Berlin composed the song as part as a comedic revue titled Yip, Yip, Yaphank. Berlin, or possibly the producers of the show, decided, however, that the original song was somewhat solemn compared to other components of the show and decided not to include it. The composer placed the manuscript of the future anthem aside.

"God Bless America" was printed on flags and other patriotic items following the September 11 attacks.
"God Bless America" was printed on flags and other patriotic items following the September 11 attacks.

It wasn’t until 1938, when the threat of another war loomed in Europe, that Berlin decided to revise the lyrics of "God Bless America" into a peace song. Upon a request by Ted Collins, Smith’s manager, for a new patriotic song, Berlin first began to work on a new song. Once he recalled the song from twenty years prior, he began to work quickly to revise its lyrics. He produced a first draft on 31 October 1938 and then a final version by 2 November. Smith performed the song on her radio broadcast on 11 November 1938, also known as Armistice Day.

Following its inaugural performance, calls poured in for a recorded version of "God Bless America." Smith sang it during most radio broadcasts that followed through December 1940. She recorded the anthem for RCA Victor in March of 1939. In 1940, Berlin established a fund based on the song and devoted the royalties to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. At one point, a movement developed to make "God Bless America" the national anthem. Smith herself addressed Congress and asked that it not make such a decision. Her argument was that the official national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, was written during a battle and should not be replaced.

The American song experienced resurgence in 2000, when it was sung at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Following the events of 11 September 2001, the United States Senate sang the song on the steps of the Capitol. When the stock market reopened the following week, it was reprised there. At a tribute fundraiser on 21 September 2001, following the terrorist attack, Canadian singer Celine Dion also performed the song. The words "God Bless America" became an unofficial slogan and were printed on flags and other patriotic items.

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Discussion Comments


This article makes it sounds as though the song, "God Bless America" had gone completely out of use between 1940 and the year 2000. I remember singing it in my schools in the 60's and 70's. I've also heard it sung at various events throughout that time.

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