"God Bless America": Hitting the Right Note at a Difficult Time
by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed September 20, 2001

"God Bless America".

The song has become the anthem of a nation in agony since the terrorist attacks of September 11.

Members of Congress sang it on the steps of the Capitol not long after the hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It was sung at the solemn memorial service at the National Cathedral the following Friday, and at the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

"God Bless America" replaced "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch when the Cleveland Indians resumed their schedule at Jacobs Field.

It was sung at some of the college football games that were played over the weekend.

It was the closing hymn at the Sunday services of my church and, I suspect, at many other churches throughout the land.

Somehow, the song seems so right for the times. More appropriate, say, than "America the Beautiful" with its line "thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears."

The young might assume the song has always been there. Older people may associate it with World War Two, when it was immensely popular. But its history goes back much further.

Irving Berlin wrote it during the summer of 1918 at Camp Upton, located in Yaphank, Long Island. It was intended for his Ziegfeld-style review "Yip, Yip, Yaphank". But he decided the solemn tone of the song was out of place with the more comedic elements of the show, so he dropped it from the production.

Twenty years later, with the threat of war looming in Europe, he dusted it off and made some changes in the lyrics to bring it up to date. Kate Smith introduced the revised version of "God Bless America" during a radio broadcast on Armistice Day, 1938.

Ever since, "God Bless America" has become known as America’s unofficial national anthem. It is somehow fitting that the song introduced on the brink of World War Two has re-emerged as we face a new kind of war.


Thanks to the online reference service of the CLEVENET Library Consortium for guiding me to much of the information above. Within minutes after I logged on to www.KnowItNow24x7.net the online librarian came up with the answers to my questions, and sent me a document with the background I requested. The specific source is the web site of the American Treasures of the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm019.html.

RETURN TO Cleveland, The New American City

CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Reed's Read"

Copyright 2001 Tom Reed