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The Story of "God Bless America" Part II

Posted by Patriot Home & Yard on May 9th 2020

The Story of "God Bless America" Part II

Camp Upton, New York, 1918: Irving Berlin Writes "God Bless America"

Having risen to prominence following the 1911 release of "Alexander's Ragtime Band", Irving Berlin was a well-established figure in the music industry when the first World War began in 1914.

And in 1917, shortly before his 30th birthday, Berlin was drafted to serve in the Army; after President Woodrow Wilson declared war in April of the same year, Irving crafted several patriotic songs, including "For Your Country and My Country." Thus, his duties with the 152d Depot Brigade centered chiefly on songwriting and served to drum up public support for and interest in the war effort.

As part of his assignment, Irving wrote and appeared in a variety play, Yip Yip Yaphank, which Army officers hoped would raise enough revenue--some $35,000, or the equivalent of roughly $705,000 today--to fund the construction of a new community building at Camp Upton. For a number of reasons, said building never was built, but Yip Yip Yaphank earned in excess of $80,000 (approximately $1.6 million in contemporary, inflation-adjusted currency).

Irving wrote a multitude of songs for the play, one of which--none other than "God Bless America"--he felt didn't quite fit the work's overall theme. In turn, he stored it in his vast collection of unreleased compositions, where it would remain until 1938.

Kate Smith's Armistice Day Request and the Rise of "God Bless America"

In 1938, singer Kate Smith required a song to perform on Armistice Day, which would mark the 20th anniversary of World War 1's conclusion. Recognizing a prime opportunity to debut a well-suited work from two decades back, Irving Berlin made a couple minor modifications to the lyrics of "God Bless America" and provided an updated version to Smith. The song became immensely successful after she introduced it to the public during a live radio performance.

The Far-Reaching Impact of "God Bless America"

Selflessly, Irving Berlin transferred the rights to "God Bless America" to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts; the song has earned both organizations many millions of dollars. In 1954, to honor Berlin's contributing "God Bless America" to his country and the war effort, President Eisenhower presented him with a Congressional Gold Medal. Later, President Ford commemorated Berlin's achievements and patriotism with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Berlin wrote an array of famous tracks during his storied career, not a few of which populate the airwaves today. But "God Bless America" stands out because it occupies a prominent spot not only in Americans' minds, but also in their hearts. Suffice to say that Berlin, who loved his adopted country and all that it stands for, wouldn't have wanted it any other way. 

LYRICS:

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

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

From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home
God bless America, my home sweet home