Academic journal article ARSC Journal

God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song

Article excerpt

God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song. By Sheryl Kaskowitz. NY: Oxford University Press, 2013. 210pp. Hardcover. Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Discography, Index. Companion website. ISBN 978-0-19-991977-2. $29.95

"God Bless America"--a simple, patriotic song? Not so, as we find out in this well-researched book by Sheryl Kaskowitz. From its composition by Irving Berlin in 1918 for a musical review about World War I, to its singing by members of Congress on 11 September 2001, the song has traveled through America's life, being appropriated along the way by diverse political and social groups.

Every part of this song has a story and usually a complicated one, to tell. For example, the last line of the song refers directly to the 1823 composition by British composer Henry Bishop, with lyrics by American John Howard Payne. "Home, Sweet Home", originally writ ten for an opera, "Clari, or the Maid of Milan," was one of the most popular songs in America for the entire 19th century. The lyrics underwent a number of changes after Kate Smith sang it for the first time on her radio show in 1938. From that time, the song and Smith became permanently associated. …

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