News / USA

    Nation's Favorite Song Extols US Virtues, Acknowledges Flaws

    Journey through American West inspires 'America the Beautiful'

    A journey through the American West inspired poet Katherine Lee Bates  to write 'America the Beautiful' in 1893.
    A journey through the American West inspired poet Katherine Lee Bates to write 'America the Beautiful' in 1893.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    While “The Star Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States, "America the Beautiful" could be considered the country's most beloved song.

    “This is the song that has always given me goose bumps," says Lynn Sherr, author of “America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Of Our Nation’s Favorite Song.” "I think it is the quintessentially optimistic vision of America. It is hopeful. It is peaceful. And it just feels great to sing.”

    "America the Beautiful" was written by poet Katherine Lee Bates during her journey through the American West in 1893. Her words were put to a gently rousing melody by Samuel Augustus Ward.

    The popular song will be heard a lot this July 4th, Independence Day.

    Each of the song’s four verses includes something significant about America; something to celebrate, something to pray for and some challenge to overcome. In the poem’s familiar first verse, Bates praises the beauty of the land and its bounty;

    “Thy purple mountains majesties, above the fruited plain. America, America, God shed His grace on thee.”

    Terraces of Steam, Yellowstone National Park (Carol M. Highsmith)

    Sherr likes to quote the prayer from the second verse, which says “America, America, God mend thy every flaw…”  

    “Imagine understanding that America has some flaws and that we are, after all, a work in progress," she says. "It is a song of pure patriotism. But it’s not blind patriotism. She knew we had a ways to go, which of course we still do, and yet she still understood that you could know that and still be patriotic."

    Folk singer and left-leaning social activist Pete Seeger has performed “America the Beautiful.”

    “Pete Seeger understands and understood about patriotism in a way that a lot of Americans didn’t have to. He got into trouble with the law because of some of his beliefs," Sherr says. "The very fact that he also sings it indicates that, bottom line, he loves America.”

    Spring in Western Colorado (Carol M. Highsmith)

    Sherr contrasts the meaning of “America the Beautiful” with “The Star Spangled Banner,” a song which also happens to be much harder to sing.

    “Our actual national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” was written by a man, Francis Scott Key, who saw a battle and he was writing about a war. The “Star Spangled Banner” appealed to many in America because of all the martial words in it: ‘The rocket’s red glare, and the bombs bursting in air.’ This one, on the other hand, is peaceful. It’s about a land and a country, not about a flag and a war, and it’s about a people who are on the edge of greatness about to be great.”  

    The words to “America the Beautiful” abound in heroism;

    “Oh beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, in mercy more than life..."

    “I think those words were astounding...and I must say they resonate more than ever after 9/11. How can you hear the words ‘who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life,’ and not think of all the rescue workers who went into the building when everyone else was coming out? It’s an amazing thought in that verse.”

    Sherr says “America the Beautiful” is not so much an alternative national anthem, as simply a song of joy.    

    "This is a poem and therefore a song for the common person. This is not an elitist song. This is not for the soldier. This is not for the president only. This is for everybody.”

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora