Definitions

well-established

America the Beautiful

"America the Beautiful" is an American patriotic song.

History

The words are by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College. In 1893, Bates had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College, and several of the sights on her trip found their way into her poem:

On 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, to commemorate the Fourth of July. 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. The Hymn tune composed in 1895 by Samuel A. Ward, was generally considered the best music as early as 1910 and is still the popular tune today. Ward had been similarly inspired. 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, and he immediately wrote it down. Ward died in 1903, not knowing the national stature his music would attain. 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 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 Letterman following the attacks, CBS newsman Dan Rather cried briefly as he quoted the fourth verse.

Ray Charles 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; Charles 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 materialistic and self-serving robber barons of her 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.

It is often included in songbooks in a wide variety of religious congregations in the United States.

It has also become a tradition for the song to be performed at the start of the WWE event WrestleMania. Such artists to perform the song at the event include Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Reba McEntire, Little Richard, Boyz II Men, Ashanti, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Mariah Carey, Lilian Garcia, Michelle Williams, and John Legend.

When Richard Nixon visited the People's Republic of China in 1972, this song was played by Chinese as the welcome music. Interestingly, the Chinese characters for United States literally mean "Beautiful Country.

Zakk Wylde performs an instrumental version of "America The Beautiful" on the Black Label Society's 1919 Eternal album. This version is an acoustic arrangement performed and recorded solely by frontman Zakk Wylde.

Idioms

"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 USA". In addition to these, it is also featured in Schoolhouse Rock's "Elbow Room". Although 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. A term similar to this is the Canadian motto A Mari Usque Ad Mare ("From sea to sea.") See also Manifest Destiny.

Takeoffs

A song as popular and familiar as "America the Beautiful" inevitably gets used out of its proper context or time frame, for humorous effect. Some examples:gay wads and homos u suck my balls

  • In 1971, the song inspired the cross-country Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash race from New York to Los Angeles that later was the topic of several movies with Burt Reynolds
  • In The Muppet Movie (1979), Fozzie Bear sings the tune straightforwardly, then declares, "Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear."
  • A Far Side cartoon from 1982 (reprinted in Sherr's book) shows Christopher Columbus nearing land, with his crew of conquistador types, and saying, "Look, gentlemen! Purple mountains! Spacious skies! Fruited plains! ... Is someone writing this down?"
  • In one of his comedy club routines in the early 1960s, Flip Wilson did a Columbus story with an African-American twist... ironically, the catchphrase repeated by Queen Isabel (an early "Geraldine") is "Chris gon' find Ray Charles!" When his Columbus sees land, he comments, "It's America, all right... just look at those spacious skies... those amber waves of grain... dig that purple mountain's majesty... I'll bet there's fruit out there on the plain!"
  • In his satirical, musical record album, The United States of America, Volume 1, Stan Freberg plays Columbus, Jesse White plays a skeptical King Ferdinand, and Colleen Collins does Queen Isabella (mimicking Tallulah Bankhead), resulting in this bit of dialogue:

Ferdinand: Look at him in that hat! Is that a crazy sailor?
Isabella: Crazy? I'll tell you how crazy! He's a man with a dream, a vision, a vision of a new world, whose alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears, with purple mountain majesties above the Two Cents Plain . . .
Ferdinand and Columbus: Fruited!
Isabella: Fruited.

  • Mel Brooks, on a talk show, once did an impression of how Frank Sinatra might sing the song, complete with tuxedo, black hat and coat, and cigarette, leaning up against a bar, and rendering the song in "lounge style".
  • George Carlin performed a satirical version on his 1972 album Class Clown, when environmental issues were becoming a hot political topic:

Oh beautiful, for smoggy skies, insecticided grain
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea!

  • The Chicago-based death metal band Master recorded a parody of "America the Beautiful" on their 1991 album On the Seventh Day God Created...Master but instead called it "America the Pitiful".
  • Two Gallants wrote the song "Waves of Grain" which satires the original America The Beautiful.
  • Neil Young recorded a (presumably non-ironic) version for his 2006 folk-rock protest album "Living with War" which criticizes the Bush Administration.
  • In the song "The Decline" by NOFX, the lyrics in the first verse are 'Bred on purple mountain range, feed amber waves of grains to lesser human beings'.

Lyrics

Note: some sources omit the second verse, and substitute its refrain for that of the fourth verse.

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.

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!

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!

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!

Books

  • 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.
  • 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.

Media

References

Sources/external links

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