Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July: Irving Berlin singing God Bless America

Happy 4th, folks.  Here's the man himself, singing it on the Ed Sullivan Show. Well, a short clip of it at any rate.

While Berlin wrote the song, and then dropped it, from a military review called Yip Yip Yaphank in 1918, Berlin didn't reintroduced for another 20 years until he brought the song back as a peace song on Armistice Day in 1938, sung by Kate Smith on her radio show. The intro lyric to the song, which isn't sung anymore, is fascinating.
While the 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.

The storm clouds across the sea clearly reference (as written) World War I but, as sung in 1938, also reference the looming Holocaust and World War II. I love how the last line sets up the main chorus (now the only part sung) as a prayer, a supplication. I get frustrated with some patriotic materials that suggest that God owes us something merely for being Americans. I much prefer patriotic materials that position us as humbly asking God that, if we live up to our obligations and ideas, we might be thrown a little guidance and wisdom for maintaining our home sweet home.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a 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, My home sweet home.

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