"America the Beautiful" is
an American patriotic song.
The words are written
by Katharine Lee Bates
music composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward
Bates originally wrote the words as a poem, Pikes Peak
first published in the July 4th edition of the church periodical
in 1895. The poem was titled
for publication. As for the music, Ward had
originally written the music Materna
, for the old hymn,
O Mother Dear, Jerusalem
, in 1882. 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 beloved
and popular of the many American patriotic songs. From time to time
it has been proposed as a replacement for The Star-Spangled Banner
the National Anthem.
at the age of thirty-three Katharine
Lee 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 4; 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,
commemorate the Fourth of
. 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
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, thus perhaps the off the
analogy. He composed the tune for the old hymn "O Mother
Dear, Jerusalem", retitling the work "Materna". Ward's music
combined with Bates' 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, as the music was only first applied to the song in 1904.
Miss Bates was more fortunate, as the song's popularity was
well-established by her death in 1929.
At various times in the more than 100 years that have elapsed since
the song as we know it was born, 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.
Popularity of the song increased greatly following the September 11, 2001 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
following the attacks, CBS newsman Dan Rather
cried briefly as he quoted the fourth
is credited with the song's
most well known rendition in current times (although Elvis Presley
had good success with it in the
1970s). His recording is very commonly played at major sporting
events, such as the Super Bowl
gave a live performance of the song prior to Super Bowl XXXV
, the last Super Bowl played
before the September 11 terrorist attacks. His unique take on it
places the third verse first, after which he sings the usual first
verse. In the third verse (see below), the author scolds the
day, and urges America to live up to its noble ideals and to honor,
with both word and deed, the memory of those who died for their
country. Symbolically, Marian Anderson (a noted opera singer of her
day) sang a rendition of America on the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial in 1939
after being refused use of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American
Revolution because of her skin color.
version of "America the
Beautiful" performed by country music
singers Trace Adkins
, Billy Dean
, Vince Gill
Carolyn Dawn Johnson
, Toby Keith
, Brenda Lee
, Martina McBride
, Jamie O'Neal
and Keith Urban
on the Billboard
Hot Country Singles & Tracks
chart in July 2001. The song re-entered the chart following the
September 11 terrorist attacks.
Richard Nixon visited the People's
Republic of China in 1972, this song was played by Chinese as the
Interestingly, the Chinese characters
for United States
literally mean "Beautiful Country."
The song is often included in songbooks in a wide variety of
congregations in the United
"From sea to shining sea" is
an American idiom meaning from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean (or vice versa).
Many songs have used this
term, including the American patriotic songs "America, The
Beautiful" and "God Bless the
". In addition to these, it is also featured in Schoolhouse Rock
's "Elbow Room".
the United States has borders with the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the phrase refers only to the West and East coasts
of the Continental U.S.
similar to this is the Canadian motto A Mari
Usque Ad Mare ("From sea to sea.") See also Manifest Destiny.
- Lynn Sherr's 2001 book America
the Beautiful discusses the origins of the song and the
backgrounds of its authors in depth. ISBN 1-58648-085-5. The book
points out that the poem has the same meter as that of "Auld Lang Syne"; the songs can be sung
- Barbara Younger has written a children's book about the writing
of the song: Purple Mountain Majesties: The Story of Katharine
Lee Bates and "America the Beautiful". The book has
illustrations by artist Stacey Schuett.