America The Beautiful

Album: A Message From the People (1926)
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  • The lyric to "America The Beautiful" was written by a Wellesley College English professor named Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote it as a poem that was first published in 1895. At the time, the term "America" was rarely used in reference to the United States (it does not appear in the "The Star-Spangled Banner"), but over the next few years, when the country claimed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Cuba, Guam and Hawaii as overseas territories, it was much more than a collection of states and better described as an empire known as America. This song helped popularize the term, which Theodore Roosevelt used regularly when he became president in 1901.

    To this point, most patriotic songs referred to the United States as "Columbia," which was the female personification of the country ("Hail, Columbia" and "Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean" are examples), and presidents hardly ever referred to "America," although "American" was commonly used as an adjective.

    "America The Beautiful" became a song in 1926 when the poem was combined with the music of a hymn written by Samuel Ward called "Materna" for a contest by the National Federation of Music Clubs. It remained the most popular "America" song until Kate Smith recorded Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" in 1938.
  • Many Americans feel this should be their National Anthem, rather than the "The Star Spangled Banner."
  • Many artists have recorded this, including Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, but Charles' version is the most famous.
  • Bates was inspired by the beauty of nature during a lecture tour in Colorado Springs. She recalled just before her death in 1929: "One day, some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there."

    She continued: "We stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit, hallowed by the worship of perished races, and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse... It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind."
  • The poem first appeared in a Boston church publication called The Congregationalist on July 4, 1895, with the editor's introductory note: "Miss Bates's poem has the true patriotic ring pertinent to Fourth of July."
  • The original poem described the skies as "halcyon" instead of spacious and the plain as "enameled" instead of fruited.
  • According to Mark Steyn's A Song for the Season, Samuel Ward wrote the music that would eventually accompany "America the Beautiful" after a particularly thrilling visit to Coney Island.
  • On May 25, 1986, millions of Americans joined hands to form a human chain across the country (with sizable gaps) as part of Hands Across America, an effort to ease hunger and homelessness in America. At 3 p.m. Eastern Time, participants began singing "We Are The World," followed by "America The Beautiful" and the event's theme song.

Comments: 22

  • Jim Ball from MarylandI believe that the words "...who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life." refer to the motives of many
    Americans who wanted to abolish slavery. What other meaning could the words ..."and mercy more than life." have?
  • Boats from United States Of America Why did Ray Charles sing the Second verse first When he sang America The Beautiful First
  • John D'eugene from EugeneRay Charles (Robinson) adapted, arranged and recorded his version of "America, the Beautiful" @ RPM International Studios in Los Angeles to celebrate the Bicentennial of the United States of America's Declaration of Independence from Great Britain (1776 – 1976). The recording was released on Crossover Records (CR 985) in April of 1976.
  • Sam from Rialto, CaThanks . For a man void of physical vision, Ray Charles' spiritual, mental, and humanitarian vision, opened the eyes of millions with good, weak, or no physical vision, with his love of country and song. I hope and pray that the 'voice of the people' and the 'listening ear of our congress' will produce a positive atmosphere for a public dialogue of where in society should this beautiful, heart-touching, piece of art be found. Indeed! this is an awesome, noteworthy, modern, musical achievement that the late Mr. Ray Charles should be forever honored.
  • Jimmy from Boulder Creek, CaThe Ray Charles version of "America the Beautiful" is excellent as is Barbara Streisand's. Check out Not that is better. I's just different. Kind of an apples and oranges thing.
  • Sara from Lancaster, CaNo...i think that our natinal anthem should be GodBless The Usa
  • Andy from Halesowen, West Midlands, United KingdomI have heard that Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is your Land" because he felt this song was usign language not easily understandable by ordinary folks, and wanted to give them the meaning in a form anyone could understand.
  • Andy from Halesowen, West Midlands, United KingdomEven though I an not particularly religious, I also liked "God Bless America" and thought that would make a good anthem too.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdThe complete words: ***(1)*** O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, / For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain! / America, America! God shed his grace on thee, / And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea. ***(2)*** O beautiful for pilgrim feet whose stern impassioned stress, / A thoroughfare for freedom beat, across the wilderness! / America, America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw, / Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law! ***(3)*** O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, / Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life! / America, America! May God thy gold refine, / 'Til all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine! ***(4)*** O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years, / Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears! / America, America! God shed his grace on thee, / And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

  • Fred from Laurel, MdSongfacts - "Many Americans feel this should be their National Anthem, rather than the Star Spangled Banner." -- In fact, I remember hearing long ago that A-t-B was in competition with S-S-B (can anyone confirm or refute this?) when the nat. anthem was being decided, by resolution of Congress, signed by the president Mar. 3, 1931. Personally, I would have been happy with either of the two. The reasons for AtB are obvious enough. As for SSB, OK, the language there is rather stilted by modern standards, but, hey, so is AtB! SSB is a story of the successful defense of Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, under siege by the British in the War of 1812 (1812-14). The Crown had just lost us colonies 3 decades earlier, and dearly wanted that loss reversed. They were somewhat the sore losers, kidnapping and impressing unwary Americans at sea into their military, and they thought they could beat us this time. Which they might have done, had we not shown the resolve that we display at our best. So SSB illustrates the heroic side of patriotism; AtB, the peaceful (1st & 4th verses), and some of the heroic (2nd & 3rd verses) side. I might be willing to advocate that we have dual national anthems -- hey, if the Dutch can have 2 national capitals, why not?! *** Speaking of choosing a National Anthem, since we hadn't yet chosen one at the time, when the first modern Olympic Games were held, in Athens, Greece in 1896, and an American won some event, the band didn't know what to play at first. Somehow they settled on Hail, Columbia, which served this purpose at the Olympics (and had elsewhere, on occasion, going back to Washington's time, but so had SSB, going back to around its conception in the Madison administration) until we officially chose the Star Spangled Banner.
  • Fred from Laurel, Mdtheoriginaldreamer(TOD?)/Richmond,VA - Are you by any chance a Mark Levin fan? Reason I ask is, he's on the radio M-F from 6-8pm ET and he plays this 10 or 15 min. before the end of his show every Fri. He also plays the service songs of all the armed services whenever he feels like they need moral support -- Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and he adds the Merchant Marine (I knew they had a service academy, but they're not military except in wartime, and it didn't occur to me that they had a service song). *** Also, "A Pittance Of Time" was written by Terry Kelly, of Halifax, N.S. On his website - - are the song, the story behind the song, and the lyrics.

  • Sam from Lincoln, NeComparing this great song to "God Bless the USA", as one rather uninformed person did in an earlier comment, is like comparing "Ave Maria" to "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead". "America the Beautiful" is hands down the best patriotic song ever written, and Ray Charles' version is the definitive performance of it.
  • Pasky from Lincolnshire, EnglandI chuffing hate this song.
  • Theoriginaldreamer from Richmond, VaI don't care if the only part of you that's patriotic is the tip of your pinky finger, this song, and in particular this rendition has to stir something inside of you.

    To complete the list:
    National Anthem song at Super Bowl XV
    1973 (I think) Gordon Sinclair recording

    now there's another guy out there who's also Canadian -- wrote 'A Pittance of Time'.
    Both the Red Skelton reading and 'The Duke' recording of the 'Pledge of Allegiance'.
    A military band playing their branch's respective melodic tones..
    'God Bless the U.S.A.'

    But getting back to Mr. Charles version of 'America, The Beautiful' and you happen to hear it when you are driving, I don't know about you but I have to pull over. There are only two other songs that do that to me: 'O Holy Night' and 'Ave Maria'. Whew
  • Ralph from Newton, MaI think Congress should "retire" this song in honor of Charles. There would be no penalty for someone singing it; it would be primarily symbolic.
  • Dae from Sumter, ScI was blessed to see Ray Charles in concert. He didn't perfom this song, but he was just spectacular nevertheless! Hearing his rendition of "America, The Beautiful" never fails to move me to tears. You can't miss how grateful he was to be an American, given all the obstacles he had to overcome. Simply the best recording, ever, of this lovely tune.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaWould the national anthem be ray charles singing?
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyJay (and others) I too was moved nearly to tears by this song. But my experience (I'm a bit older than you) was during the Watergate hearings. The DJ saying "We need to get back to this view of America" did it. Try singing along with that on your mind without crying!
  • Jay from New York, NyOn September 13, 2001, the radio station I listened to went back to playing music after nearly two days of news reports. This was the first song I heard that morning after getting into my car, and it almost moved me to tears. Charles begins with what is traditionally the third verse: "Oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life." Given the events of two days earlier, it was incredibly powerful and almost eerily poignant. I have only rarely heard this song -- it is not the type of song that is typically played on the radio -- but I feel that Charles' rendition is the definitive version of the song, and it provided for me a musical memory I will never forget.
  • Steve from Schenectady, NyEach time I hear this rendition it almost moves me to tears. Thank you for posting it!
  • Adriana from Monterrey, MexicoIT-IS-GREAT
  • Dave from Pomeroy, OhThe Great Ray Chales passed away today 6/10/04
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