"God Bless America" is similar in format and lyrics to many other contemporary national anthems. It is popular as a "modern" national anthem because of its memorable words and tune, as opposed to the rather complex music and abstract lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner. "God Bless America" takes the form of a prayer (intro lyrics "as we raise our voices, in a solemn prayer") for God's blessing and peace for the nation ("...stand beside her and guide her through the night...").
Music critic Jody Rosen comments that a 1906 Jewish dialect novelty song, "When Mose With His Nose Leads the Band," contains a six-note fragment that is "instantly recognizable as the opening strains of 'God Bless America.'" He interprets this as an example of Berlin's "habit of interpolating bits of half-remembered songs into his own numbers." Berlin, born Israel Baline, had himself written several Jewish-themed novelty tunes.
In 1938, with the rise of Hitler, Berlin, who was Jewish, and a first-generation European immigrant, felt it was time to revive it as a "peace song", and it was introduced on an Armistice Day broadcast in 1938 sung by Kate Smith, on her radio show. Berlin had made some minor changes; by this time, "to the right" might have been considered a call to the political right, so he substituted "through the night" instead. He also provided an introduction that is now rarely heard but which Smith always used: "While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free / Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer."
More than just the dramatic words and melody, the arrangement for Kate Smith's performance was accompanied by full band, progressing into a grand march tempo, with trumpets triple re-inforcing the harmonies between stanzas: the dramatic build-up ends on the final exposed high note, which Kate Smith sang in the solo as a sustained a cappella note, with the band then joining for the finale.
The song was a hit; there was even a movement to make "God Bless America" the national anthem of the United States. In 1943, Smith's rendition was featured in the patriotic musical This Is the Army along with other Berlin songs. Manuscripts in the Library of Congress reveal the evolution of the song from victory to peace. Berlin gave the royalties of the song to the God Bless America Fund for redistribution to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of the USA.
Woody Guthrie disliked the song, and wrote "This Land Is Your Land," originally titled "God Blessed America For Me," as a response to "God Bless America." "This Land Is Your Land" has also often been proposed as a United States national anthem .
Later, from December 11, 1969, through the early 1970s, the playing of Smith singing the song before many of home games of the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers brought it renewed popularity (as well as a reputation for being a "good luck charm" to the Flyers), long before it became a staple of nationwide sporting events. The Flyers even brought Smith in to sing "live" before the final game of Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 19, 1974, and the Flyers won the Cup that day.
The song was sung by the main characters, to a chilling ironic effect, in Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. Regarding the song in the film, Roger Ebert says in his 1978 review: "It [the film] ends on a curious note: The singing of 'God Bless America'. I won't tell you how it arrives at that particular moment... but I do want to observe that the lyrics of 'God Bless America' have never before seemed to me to contain such an infinity of possible meanings, some tragic, some unspeakeably sad, some few still defiantly hopeful, and some unefficiently portrayed."
The song is also prominently featured in the film Once Upon a Time in America, where it is played during a murder at the beginning of the picture.
"God Bless America" is often sung at sporting events, recitals, and other public events where national anthems are sung, sometimes in place of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Two examples of this are at home games of the Philadelphia Flyers and those of the Ottawa Senators in which the visiting team is from the United States. At Flyers' home games, Lauren Hart has sung "God Bless America" alternating lyrics with Kate Smith on a video screen. At some Ottawa Senators' home games, if the visiting team is from the U.S., Ontario Provincial Police Constable Lyndon Slewidge has sung "God Bless America" before singing the Canadian national anthem.
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "God Bless America" has commonly been sung during the seventh-inning stretch in Sunday (as well as Opening Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, September 11 and all post-season) Major League Baseball games, except for those at the Canadian home fields of the Toronto Blue Jays and of the Montreal Expos prior to 2005, when they moved to Washington. Yankee Stadium is the only Major League ballpark to play "God Bless America" in every game during the seventh-inning stretch. The team's YES Network televises its performance during each game before going to a commercial. Interestingly, some claim this offers a competitive advantage to the Yankees because at Yankee Stadium, Ronan Tynan sings an especially long version of the song at certain games (including all playoff games), during which time the opposing pitcher is unable to warm up. Some pitchers have complained that this affects their rhythm, and it has been notoriously known for inciting some of them to sing "God Damn America".
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Canadian pop star Céline Dion performed the song on the TV special America: A Tribute to Heroes. Shortly afterwards on October 16, Sony Music Entertainment released a benefit album called God Bless America, which featured Dion singing the song. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and became the first charity album to reach the top since USA for Africa's "We Are the World" in 1985.. Céline Dion's version also received enough radio airplay to reach number 14 on Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart.
The music video was made and aired in September 2001.
"God Bless America" performed by Dion exists in two versions, live and studio. Both included on collections to gather funds for the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and their families. The live version, on America: A Tribute to Heroes, is from the telethon event of the same name that took place on September 21 2001. The studio version is on the God Bless America album, a patriotic songs CD. It was recorded on September 20 2001, the day before the American telethon. It was meant to be a replacement for the performance in the event something happened and Dion couldn’t appear.
The song was also recorded by New York City's "singing cop," Daniel Rodriguez, and charted for one week at number 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single. Before the 2001 versions, the last time "God Bless America" had been a Billboard chart hit was in 1959, when Connie Francis reached number 36 with her version (the B-side of her Top 10 hit "Among My Souvenirs").
The song has spawned numerous parodies. An irreverent version of the lyrics was printed in the book The MAD World of William M. Gaines, by Frank Jacobs (1972). The magazine's veteran art editor, John Putnam, had prepared some copy and sent it to the printers; the word ")|America" was divided, with a hyphen, at the end of one line. The copy was returned to Putnam by the typesetting foreman, who explained that his union had a rule forbidding the splitting of that word. Putnam obliged, and rewrote the copy, and sent it back with this enclosure:
Don't Break America"
Don't break "America";
Land we extol;
Don't deface it;
Keep it clean, keep it pure, keep it whole;
In Bodoni, in Futura,
In Old English, in Cabell--
Don't break "America"--
"God Bless My Underwear" A version called God Bless My Underwear is popular with schoolchildren at summer camps. "I am an Anglican" is sung as an Episcopal church camp song. A midwestern version refers to Lutherans, a mid-Atlantic one to Presbyterians .God Bless America spawned another of Irving Berlin's tunes, "Heaven Watch The Philippines", during the end of World War II, after he heard the Filipinos sang a slightly revised version of the song replacing "America" with "The Philippines".
Charlie Daniels' "In America" Charlie Daniels' 1980 single "In America" clearly plays off of the original "God Bless America". Making clear reference to his anger at the US Government over the Vietnam war and the cold war, Daniels created a song that took the invocation of the blessing of divinity and made it into a license to kick ass. Though the original is certainly more traditional, this version clearly speaks to the "don't understand the problem just fight the people on the other side of it" sensibility. Daniels performed this song shortly after 9/11 occurred substituting "our enemies" for "Russians" which is an interesting choice demonstrating not only that Americans can befriend former enemies., but that we were, at that time, looking for enemies to engage.
God bless the land that gave us birth!
No pray'r but this know we.
God bless the land, of all the earth,
The happy and the free.
And where's the land like ours can brave
The splendor of the day.
And find no son of hers a slave?
God bless America!
God bless the land, the land beloved
Forever and for aye!
God bless the land that gave us birth.
God bless America!