God Bless America By Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
November 8, 2013
Oops – we really can’t say that anymore without being “politically incorrect” in someone’s opinion! The Grundy County Museum recently received a stack of old newspapers. While going through them, I found a press comment from the Grundy Register, October 3, 1940 edition, originally taken from the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune. “Everywhere in this beloved land you hear them singing “God Bless America”. It was written by Irving Berlin, who composed it in 1918 to be used in an amateur show in an army camp. The song was never used, and Berlin put it away where it slumbered peacefully in a trunk until Kate Smith requested that Berlin write her a song appropriate for her to sing on Armistice Day. “God Bless America” was dug out, and Kate sang it on November 11, 1938. It caught on immediately, and we all know the rest of the story, including the fact that God Bless America became Kate Smith’s signature song. It later became the official campaign song for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. It proved to be the most popular song of any ever written by Irving Berlin. Experts at the time said it wasn’t a great song from a technical stand point, but it gave men, women and children a chance to express their love for the great country they lived in. Irving Berlin himself said it wasn’t a patriotic song, but rather “an expression of gratitude for what this country has cone for its citizens and what home really means.” Many remember the spontaneous singing of God Bless America on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington DC on the evening of September 11, 2001 following the terrorist attacks, and on July 11, 2011, Kate Smith’s version of the song was played as NASA’s final wake up call for the space shuttle Atlantis, ending the 30 year shuttle program. “Perhaps it isn’t strictly speaking a patriotic song, yet in these days, with the world in a frenzy, we defy any true American to sing “God Bless America” without feeling a thrill of sentiment and love for this nation” (Storm Lake Pilot Tribune). Those words were written 75 years ago, and they surely should still fit today.
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