- James J. Fuld
Music that expresses devotion to the nation. In the United States, love of country has inspired a wide range of musical works, including concert music, hymns, marches, and, most especially, songs, celebrating their authors’ vision of the nation and inviting citizens to participate. Such visions may tap generally accepted ideological themes or attempt to reshape American identity, negotiating symbolic meaning or giving voice to new ideas or peoples. Although often inspired by times of national crisis, especially war, patriotic songs are less born of the moment than made and remade over decades by historical circumstance and national trends that draw the national imagination. Competitions to solicit patriotic songs rarely succeed; rather, inspiration and circumstance cohere to create famous or influential patriotic tunes (e.g., “The Star-Spangled Banner,” see below). Once established, patriotic music can become a site for rehearsal, reinterpretation, and even protest by individual performers or as mass singing. Patriotic songs often figure in social rituals—military pageantry, funerals, concerts, legislative sessions, graduations, and so on— and their performance traditions and even musical details may shift over time in both new arrangements and the oral tradition.
1. Up to the Civil War.
The resistance of the American colonists to the British Stamp Act (1765) inspired songs expressing solidarity with fellow colonists. Among the most widely circulated was the “Liberty Song” (published 1768), which declared that “In freedom we’re born, and in freedom we’ll live.” John Dickinson, an ardent colonial statesman, wrote the words to an English tune (a tradition known as broadside ballad), and this song, together with similar ones published in newspapers, magazines, almanacs, and sheet music, stimulated the revolutionary spirit.
William Billings, a Boston composer and patriot, first published the anthem “Chester” in 1770; its text (likely by Billings himself) asserts the fearlessness of the American colonists and New England’s divine protection. Additional stanzas from 1778, celebrate the prowess of the colonial militia, further strengthening the tune’s function as an anthem of the Revolution. It was second in popularity only to “Yankee Doodle,” a song that survives in the popular imagination. Its origins are not precisely known, but its earliest written reference appears in the libretto (published in New York in 1767) of The Disappointment, an American comic opera; in 1768 a newspaper reported that when the British warships arrived in Boston “the Yankee Doodle song was the Capital Piece in their Band of Music.” The British used the tune derisively, but the young Americans made it their patriotic song and are believed to have played it at Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in 1781. The word “Yankee” refers to a New Englander; “doodle” originally referred to a “fool” or “simpleton” most likely, but became a point of resistance and pride. Lyrics varied, but were often humorous and jaunty (the verse containing the rhyme “pony” and “macaroni” did not appear until 1842). (See Revolutionary war, the .)
The words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” were written in September 1814 by Georgetown lawyer, Francis Scott Key, who wrote lyrics to a popular melody (to which he had previously composed separate lyrics nine years earlier). The melody was composed in England c1770 by organist and composer John Stafford Smith to set lyrics beginning “To Anacreon in Heaven” and known as “The Anacreontic Song.” It was sung by the club president of a gentlemen’s amateur musical club in London known as the Anacreontic Society. The tune inspired newly written lyrics from many American composers, including Robert Treat Paine, whose “Adams and Liberty, or The Boston Patriotic Song” (1798)helped spread further awareness of the melody. Other American lyrics fall into traditional pub drinking song, by which reputation the Anacreontic Society’s anthem is less appropriately known. Key’s 1814 lyrics were originally circulated via broadside and entitled “The Defence of Ft. M’Henry.” The words “the star-spangled banner” occur at the end of each stanza, and the present title may have been suggested by a sheet music publisher. The song accompanied flag raising ceremonies during the Civil War, and was at times claimed by both sides in the conflict, and gradually became the sonic accompaniment for the Union flag, particularly because of its lyric. The song became the official flag-raising anthem of the US Navy in 1898, and of the entire military in 1916 by order of President Woodrow Wilson. In 1918 the National Society of the United States Daughters of 1812 embraced the cause of making it the US national anthem. And with the support of Maryland Congressman J. Charles Linthicum a bill making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the US national anthem made its way slowly through Congress, before being signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.
Since its creation, the anthem has undergone musical transformation, both gentle and provocative. As national anthem a typical performance is slower than the original tune, which celebrated military victory, using dotted rhythms to restrain the tempo. Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 Woodstock rendition, however, adds psychedelic pictorialisms that depict “rocket’s red glare” and “bombs bursting in air” and further interpolates the bugle call “Taps,” apparently offering a critique of America’s war in Vietnam and race riots at home, while affirming the nation. Similarly personal renditions have been made famous by Jose Feliciano, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, and others. No single official version of the anthem has been named, allowing the song to give voice to American citizenship in all its diversity. (See also War of 1812, the.)
During the undeclared naval war with France in 1798 “Hail Columbia!” was written by Joseph Hopkinson to the melody of Philip Phile’s The President’s March, originally written for George Washington’s inauguration. It was used frequently as a US national anthem until 1931. The words of “America” or “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” were written in 1831 by a young clergyman, Samuel Francis Smith (1808–95), who had been asked to write English texts to certain German music. He chose one German hymn, not recognizing that its melody was that of the British anthem “God Save the King,” and promptly wrote the words of “America” at one sitting. Smith’s words were sung on 4 July 1831 under the title “Celebration of American Independence” in Boston. The poem originally had five stanzas; the third—calling the British “tyrants”—is not typically sung today. “America” is now also considered a hymn, partly because of the final stanza that begins “Our fathers’ God! to Thee” and ends “Great God, our King!”
“Hail to the Chief” has been played for many years to announce the arrival, or to acknowledge the presence, of the President of the United States; the first presidential inauguration at which the march was played was President Martin Van Buren’s on 4 March 1837. The words are by Sir Walter Scott and first appeared in his poem The Lady of the Lake (1810), written in honor of a favorite chief of the highlanders of Scotland. The music is usually ascribed to “Mr. Sanderson,” apparently the English songwriter James Sanderson; however, the earliest printings (about 1812) are American.
There has been controversy as to whether “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” is an American song or an adaptation of the British “Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean.” However, the American song was copyrighted in the United States in 1843 under the title “Columbia the Land of the Brave,” “Columbia” being a frequently used name for the United States during its early history, as a reference to Christopher Columbus’s discovery. The song was another alternative national anthem. No British printing is known until 1852, and this bears the legend “Melody collected … abroad.” The song is also known in both the United States and England as “The Red, White, and Blue,” after the colors of the flags of both countries. David T. Shaw, a singer, and Thomas à Beckett, a musician and actor, separately claimed authorship of the American version.
Many strongly patriotic songs were composed and sung during the American Civil War, the. After Fort Sumter had been fired on in April 1861, “Glory Hallelujah” was played publicly in May at a flag-raising ceremony for the training of Northern recruits near Boston, and contemporary newspapers reported that troops sang the song as they marched in Boston in July. One magazine that month claimed it was a “people’s tune” and that “one can hardly walk on the streets for five minutes without hearing it whistled or hummed.” Carrying the lyrics “Canaan’s Happy Shore” or “Brothers, Will You Meet Me?” the tune was written around 1856 by William Steffe. Julia Ward Howe’s poem “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was written to this music in or near Washington in November 1861. Howe had heard soldiers singing the song and was asked to provide a worthier text. A pioneer for women’s rights, she said “My poem did some service in the Civil War. I wish very much that it may do good service in the peace.”
“Dixie,” is attributed to Dan Emmett in 1859 as a blackface minstrel number, but it was performed only intermittently and without much success until it was sung without authorization in New Orleans in April 1860; it created such excitement that it was repeated 13 times that month, and unauthorized sheet music editions were published in New Orleans. The song would become the unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy, but Northern publishers also printed it before, during, and after the Civil War. Only a few days before his assassination President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “Dixie” a national song and asked a serenading band at the White House to play it. A contemporary explanation of the word “Dixie” is given in a program of Bryant’s Minstrels dated February 1861: “As many inquiries have been made in regard to the meaning of “Dixie Land,” and as to its location, it may be well to remark that, with the Southern Negroes, Dixie Land is but another name for home.” (See Confederate music.)
Two other patriotic songs of the Civil War are George F. Root’s “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” President Lincoln wrote to Root: “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators.” Another Civil War song is the rousing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” usually credited to Patrick Gilmore, though its melody is apparently of Irish origin. Stephen Foster also wrote several patriotic songs during the Civil War, including “We Are Coming, Father Abraam, 300,000 More.”
2. After 1865.
The lofty words of “America the Beautiful,” or “O beautiful for spacious skies,” were inspired by Katherine Lee Bates’s view from Pike’s Peak in Colorado in summer 1893 and describe the splendors of the possessions given to the American people. The poem by Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, was published on 4 July 1895, but it is not known who set it to the music of “Materna” by Samuel Augustus Ward; “Materna” had been composed in 1882 and was published a few years later. The first known printing of poem and music together was in 1910, after Ward’s death.
John Philip Sousa composed his stirring march The Stars and Stripes Forever! on a ship from England to the United States in 1896; “I paced the deck with a mental brass band playing the march fully a hundred times during the week I was on the steamer.” Sousa said “A march should make a man with a wooden leg step out,” and The Stars and Stripes Forever! epitomized the enthusiastic optimism of a country then beginning to come into its own. In December 1987, Congress made The Stars and Stripes Forever! the national march of the United States.
The most famous patriotic song from World war i , George M. Cohan’s “Over There,” was written in 1917, after the United States had entered the war, and was introduced by Nora Bayes at a Red Cross benefit performance. Largely for this song Cohan was awarded the Congressional Medal; as one observer commented, “there is the whole arrogance of the strength of the New World in its lines.”
Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” in 1918 as a finale for the soldier show Yip, Yip, Yaphank, but he did not consider it appropriate, and the song was not performed until Kate Smith asked him for a patriotic song to introduce on the radio on Armistice Day (the earlier name for Veterans Day) 1938. Berlin altered the words slightly to change it into a peace song, and as an expression of gratitude to the country he assigned all his royalties from it to the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of America. Largely in recognition of “God Bless America,” Berlin received a gold medal from President Eisenhower by act of Congress. The composer stated that he never expected it to be a great national song, as it is a prayer and lacks the nobility of an anthem; and yet some have argued that this sincere, simple, and effective song should replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem.
The words “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” were spoken by Chaplain William Maguire on board a US Navy warship during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941; they inspired the best-known American patriotic song of World war ii , written shortly afterwards by Frank Loesser.
America’s involvement in the Vietnam war inspired many popular songs, the majority of which expressed antiwar sentiment and disapproval of government policy, such as “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” (1967) by Country Joe and the Fish and “War” (1969) performed by Edwin Starr. Musical responses expressing patriotism in many different forms emerged after 9/11, including Alan Jackson’s country tribute, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (2001), Ani DiFranco’s critique of US governmental policy, “Self Evident” (2001), and Toby Keith’s militaristic “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” (2002). The era also saw a renewed interest in earlier patriotic songs including “God Bless America” as well as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” which was originally released in 1984, but climbed the country charts again upon its re-release in 2001.
A number of patriotic songs have strong associations with the military services. The army’s “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” was written in 1907 by Edmund L. Gruber, an officer in the Philippine Islands; it was occasioned by the reunion of two portions of his regiment which had been separated. The US Navy’s “Anchors Aweigh” was written for the Army–Navy football game in 1906 by Alfred H. Miles and Charles A. Zimmerman, the former an undergraduate at the Naval Academy and the latter the academy bandmaster. The music of The Marines’ Hymn is by the French composer Jacques Offenbach; it was written for the 1867 revision of his Geneviève de Brabant. The author of the words is unknown, and no printing of them is known until 1918. The air force’s The Army Air Corps Song was written in 1939 by Robert Crawford, a member of the music faculty at Princeton University.
Some of the most gifted American composers have contributed in various ways to the repertory of patriotic music. Charles Ives composed orchestral works with patriotic titles: Washington’s Birthday (1909) and The Fourth of July (1911–13). In 1931 George and Ira Gershwin wrote a patriotic lovesong, “Of Thee I Sing” (“Thee” referring to the United States), and a satirical patriotic piece, “Wintergreen for President,” for the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing, the title of which was derived from the first stanza of “America.”
- O.G.T. Sonneck: Report on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Hail Columbia,” “America,” “Yankee Doodle” (Washington, DC, 1909/R1972, enlarged 2/1914/R)
- American War Songs (Philadelphia, 1925/R)
- J. Muller: The Star Spangled Banner: Words and Music Issued between 1814–1864 (New York, 1935, 2/1973)
- H. Dichter and E. Shapiro: Early American Sheet Music: its Lure and its Lore, 1768–1889 (New York, 1941/R)
- S. Spaeth: A History of Popular Music in America (New York, 1948)
- R.S. Hill: “The Melody of “The Star Spangled Banner” in the United States before 1820,” Essays Honoring Lawrence C. Wroth” (Portland, ME, 1951), 151–93
- E.D. Snyder: “The Biblical Background of the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’,” New England Quarterly, 24/2 (1951), 231–38
- I. Silber: Songs of the Civil War (New York, 1960)
- G. Svejda: History of the Star Spangled Banner from 1814 to the Present (Springfield, VA, 1969)
- H. Nathan: Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy(Norman, OK, 1962/R)
- J.J. Fuld: The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk (New York, 1966, 2/1971)
- P.W. Filby and E.G. Howard: Star-Spangled Books: Books, Sheet Music, Newspapers, Manuscripts, and Persons Associated with “The Star-Spangled Banner” (Baltimore, MD, 1972)
- V.B. Lawrence: Music for Patriots, Politicians and Presidents (New York, 1975)
- J.A. Leo Lemay: “The American Origins of ‘Yankee Doodle’,” William and Mary Quarterly, 33 (1976), 435–64
- R. Crawford: The Civil War Songbook (New York, 1977)
- W. Lichtenwanger: The Music of The Star-Spangled Banner from Ludgate Hill to Capitol Hill (Washington, DC, 1977)
- W. Lichtenwanger: “The Music of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’,” College Music Symposium, 18 (1978), 34–81
- J.A. Summit: “‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy?’: Identity and Melody at an American Simh at Torah Celebration,” EthM, 37 (1993), 41–62
- A. Collins: Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue: The Stories behind America’s Best-Loved Patriotic Songs (New York, 2003)
- K. Smith: God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War (Lexington, KY, 2003)
- J.B. Jones: The Songs that Fought the War: Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939–1945 (Lebanon, NH, 2006)
- W. Gibbons: “‘Yankee Doodle’ and Nationalism, 1780–1920,” American Music, 26 (2008), 246–74
- S.R. Kaskowitz: As We Raise Our Voices: a Social History and Ethnography of “God Bless America (diss., Harvard U., 2011)
Star Spangled Banner Sheet Music Collection in US-BAhs