|"America the Beautiful"|
|Writer||Katharine Lee Bates|
|Composer||Samuel A. Ward|
Performed by the United States Navy Band and Sea Chanters, arr. Carmen Dragon
United States Army Band Brass version
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"America the Beautiful" is an American Samuel A. Ward.
Bates originally wrote the words as a poem, "Pikes Peak", first published in the Fourth of July edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist in 1895. At that time, the poem was titled "America" for publication.
Ward had originally written the music, "Materna", for the hymn "O Mother dear, Jerusalem" in 1882, though it was not first published until 1892. Ward's music combined with the Bates poem was first published in 1910 and titled America the Beautiful.
The song is one of the most popular of the many American patriotic songs.
In 1893, at the age of 33, Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College. Several of the sights on her trip inspired her, and they found their way into her poem, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the "White City" with its promise of the future contained within its alabaster buildings; the wheat fields of America's heartland Kansas, through which her train was riding on July 16; and the majestic view of the Great Plains from high atop Zebulon's Pikes Peak.
On the pinnacle of that mountain, the words of the poem started to come to her, and she wrote them down upon returning to her hotel room at the original Antlers Hotel. The poem was initially published two years later in The Congregationalist to commemorate the Fourth of July. It quickly caught the public's fancy. Amended versions were published in 1904 and 1913.
Several existing pieces of music were adapted to the poem. A hymn tune composed by Samuel A. Ward was generally considered the best music as early as 1910 and is still the popular tune today. Just as Bates had been inspired to write her poem, Ward, too, was inspired to compose his tune. The tune came to him while he was on a ferryboat trip from Coney Island back to his home in New York City, after a leisurely summer day in 1882, and he immediately wrote it down. He was so anxious to capture the tune in his head, he asked fellow passenger friend Harry Martin for his shirt cuff to write the tune on. He composed the tune for the old hymn "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem", retitling the work "Materna". Ward's music combined with Bates's poem were first published together in 1910 and titled "America the Beautiful".
Ward died in 1903, not knowing the national stature his music would attain since the music was only first applied to the song in 1904. Bates was more fortunate since the song's popularity was well established by the time of her death in 1929.
At various times in the more than 100 years that have elapsed since the song was written, particularly during the John F. Kennedy administration, there have been efforts to give "America the Beautiful" legal status either as a national hymn or as a national anthem equal to, or in place of, "The Star-Spangled Banner", but so far this has not succeeded. Proponents prefer "America the Beautiful" for various reasons, saying it is easier to sing, more melodic, and more adaptable to new orchestrations while still remaining as easily recognizable as "The Star-Spangled Banner". Some prefer "America the Beautiful" over "The Star-Spangled Banner" due to the latter's war-oriented imagery. Others prefer "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the same reason. While that national dichotomy has stymied any effort at changing the tradition of the national anthem, "America the Beautiful" continues to be held in high esteem by a large number of Americans.
The melody of this song was the school song of the former University of Shanghai, which closed in 1952. Currently, it is used by Shanghai Alumni Primary School in Hong Kong and Hujiang High School in Taiwan as the melody of their school song.
At Colorado College, where Bates was teaching at the time of writing it, "America the Beautiful" is commonly sung at events such as convocations, commencement, and baccalaureate and has become somewhat of a second anthem for the school.
When Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, this song was played as the welcome music.
The song is often included in songbooks in a wide variety of religious congregations in the United States.
Original poem (1893)
In 1976, while the United States celebrated its bicentennial, a soulful version popularized by Ray Charles peaked at number 98 on the US R&B Charts, and is included on the soundtrack for the movie The Sandlot.
Three different renditions of the song have entered the Jamie O'Neal, The Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye, Kenny Rogers, Keith Urban and Phil Vassar reached number 58 in July 2001. The song re-entered the chart following the September 11 attacks.
Popularity of the song increased greatly following the September 11 attacks; at some sporting events it was sung in addition to the traditional singing of the national anthem. During the first taping of the Late Show with David Letterman following the attacks, CBS newsman Dan Rather cried briefly as he quoted the fourth verse.
"From sea to shining sea", originally used in the charters of some of the English Colonies in North America, is an American idiom meaning from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean (or vice versa). Many songs have used this term, including the American patriotic songs "America, the Beautiful" and "God Bless the USA". In addition to these, it is also featured in Schoolhouse Rock's "Elbow Room". A term similar to this is the Canadian motto A Mari Usque Ad Mare (From sea to sea).
Lynn Sherr's 2001 book America the Beautiful discusses the origins of the song and the backgrounds of its authors in depth. The book points out that the poem has the same meter as that of "Auld Lang Syne"; the songs can be sung interchangeably. Additionally, Sherr discusses the evolution of the lyrics, for instance changes in from the original third verse written by Bates. The song appears in Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game.
- (McKim notes that Ward mailed a friend a postcard in which he stated the hymn had been composed in 1882, however).
- Ray Charles discography
- Whitburn, p. 297
- Whitburn, p. 24
- Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003. ISBN 0060513047
- MP3 and RealAudio recordings available at the United States Library of Congress
- Free sheet music of America the Beautiful from Cantorion.org
- Words, sheet music & MIDI file at the Cyber Hymnal
- America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs named for Katharine Lee Bates' words.
- Archival collection of America the Beautiful lantern slides from the 1930s.
- Another free sheet music
- David Firestone - When Romney’s Reach Exceeds His Grasp - Mitt Romney quotes the song