Greenwood wrote this in 1983 as a patriotic song about his country, which he clearly loves. It was never a big hit, but it quickly became Greenwood's signature song. Many conservative politicians, including George Bush, have used it in their campaigns, and it became popular again in 1991 when the US went to war with Iraq. The song got a lot of airplay after September 11, 2001, as patriotism became a priority in America.
Greenwood explained to The Boot the inspiration behind this song: "I wanted to write it my whole life. When I got to that point, we were doing 300 days a year on the road, and we were on our fourth or fifth album on MCA. I called my producer, and I said I have a need to do this. I've always wanted to write a song about America, and I said we just need to be more united.
I'm from California, and I don't know anybody from Virginia or New York, so when I wrote it - and my producer and I had talked about it - [we] talked about the four cities I wanted to mention, the four corners of the United States. It could have been Seattle or Miami but we chose New York and L.A., and he suggested Detroit and Houston because they both were economically part of the basis of our economy – Motown and the oil industry, so I just poetically wrote that in the bridge.
When I put it on stage, I think it was the fall of '83, I put it in the middle of the show just as a brand-new song. Wow, it was like the audience jumped up, and they were applauding. It helps to have a career that is really exploding to bring a song to bear that is palpable. I did it for about two weeks like that and then I had to put it at the end of the show as an encore. I couldn't follow it.
It keeps having a different kind of life. I mean during the Gulf War, it was a song of the war for General Schwarzkopf. After Hurricane Katrina, it was a song for life and hope, and then after 9/11, it was a song of unity and rebuilding. It just makes me really proud that I've done something for the country and for my family. It's my family's heritage."
Eight years after the song was part of the track listing on You've Got a Good Love Comin'
, it featured again on American Patriot
. Greenwood told The Boot about his 1992 record: "I recorded the American Patriot
album. That album was a way to embrace 'God Bless the USA' with all other American songs including 'God Bless America
,' America the Beautiful
,' 'The National Anthem
' ... even the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.' The American Patriot
album really was the one that solidified 'God Bless the USA' in a time capsule, if you will, for all time."
Days after the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed, Beyoncé released a cover of this song in aid of 9/11 charities. "We were all affected by the tragedies of 9/11 and continue to keep the families who lost loved ones close to our hearts," said the Texan singer. "Lee Greenwood, the writer of the song, is also donating his proceeds to help the 9/11 families." Beyoncé originally performed the track during President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.
Lee Greenwood turned the song into a children's book, Proud to Be an American, in 2015. In addition to using the lyrics, the patriotic tome draws inspiration from the singer's own childhood. The illustrations show a child being raised by grandparents, not parents, because that is how Greenwood was raised.
"It's the lyrics of my song, the geography from New York to LA to Detroit, and great American pictures," Greenwood explained to The Boot. "The reason I didn't put the parents raising the child is because I was raised by my grandparents, so there's a grandfather and a grandmother in the book, showing a young boy all the things you should love about America."
Donald Trump played this song at many of his rallies, typically as he takes the stage. Greenwood is huge Trump supporter; in 2017 he performed at the inauguration, and in 2018 he played the song at a rally in Missouri. Trump has shown his support by Tweeting a "happy birthday" to Greenwood
(although he initially sent it to the wrong account), and by appointing him to the Kennedy Center board.