Sweet Freedom's Song: "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Democracy in America

Sweet Freedom's Song: "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Democracy in America

Sweet Freedom's Song: "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Democracy in America

Sweet Freedom's Song: "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Democracy in America

Synopsis

Although it isn't the official national anthem, America may be the most important and interesting patriotic song in our national repertoire. Sweet Freedom's Song: "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Democracy in America is a celebration and critical exploration of the complicated musical, culturaland political roles played by the song America over the past 250 years. Popularly known as My Country 'Tis of Thee and as God Save the King/Queen before that this tune has a history as rich as the country it extols. In Sweet Freedom's Song, Robert Branham and Stephen Hartnett chronicle this song's many incarnations over the centuries. Colonial Americans, Southern slaveowners, abolitionists, temperance campaigners and labor leaders, among others, appropriated and adapted the tune to create anthems for their ownstruggles. Because the song has been invoked by nearly every grassroots movement in American history, the story of America offers important insights on the story of democracy in the United States. An examination of America as a historical artifact and cultural text, Sweet Freedoms Song is a reflection of the rebellious spirit of Americans throughout our nations history. The late Robert James Branham and his collaborator, Stephen Hartnett, have produced a thoroughly-researched, delightfullywritten book that will appeal to scholars and patriots of all stripes.

Excerpt

Robert James Branham began this study in 1994. Like many historiographical adventures it began as a potluck of random footnotes, lightning flashes of “what if?”s, and a playful sense of having stumbled into a marvelous story waiting to be constructed from enticing fragments. Pursuing his hunch regarding the remarkable role of the song “My Country ’Tis of Thee” throughout our national history enabled Bob in turn to explore the promises, possibilities, and compromises of democracy in America. Indeed, while undertaken as a cultural history of the varied uses of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” this work also aspires to stand as a rhetorical history of democracy in America, of how we have come through the years to express our varied senses of nationalism, our competing notions of pride and place, and our ever-changing frustrations with corruption and greed and racism and sexism—in short, our kaleidoscopic sense of what it means to be Americans. While immersed in rich historical details, this book strives for the big picture, the broad view, as the song “My Country ’Tis of Thee” provides a wonderful opportunity to offer a humble rendering of our national history that is thrilled by the glories of our triumphs and saddened by the tragedies of our failures, but mostly just convinced that we make our own history, that democracy is as grand or as crass as our individual and collective actions.

In the spring of 1998, while happily grappling with the complexities of our national history as expressed through the hundreds of variations employed through the years of “God Save the King/Queen,” “America,” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee”—songs that share the same melody and line structure—Bob was diagnosed with cancer. He died that October, with this book unfinished.

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