One thing we could do, if Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein were still alive, would be to commission them to create a new Anthem. After all, for The Sound of Music, the pair created “Edelweiss” which 73% of the American public believe to be the Austrian national anthem! But, alas, that option is not available.
There are, however, a wealth of worthies for the title of national anthem, singable, less bellicose, and, frankly, more in tune with today’s America.
America the Beautiful
Oh 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.
Oh beautiful, for pilgrims’ 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!
Oh 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!
Oh beautiful, for patriot’s 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!
America the Beautiful was written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates as a poem inspired by a cross country train trip from Boston to Colorado. The poem as set to a number of music compositions over the years but, by 1910 or so, the melody generally accepted was a hymn by Samuel Ward, a church organist in Newark, New Jersey. It is his melody that has become the most popular today. The several references to “God” may pose a concern in some quarters, but there are allusions to the Deity in The Star Spangled Banner, albeit the language would not be understood by modern Americans for the most part:
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
God Bless America
This popular patriotic song would seem to be a perfect national anthem, written by Irving Berlin, a Russian immigrant who became one of the most productive and successful songwriters in American history. Berlin wrote the original song in 1918 while serving in the Army. In 1938, with the rise of Hitler in Germany, Berlin re-wrote the lyric to “revive” it as a “peace song”. The song was popularized by singer Kate Smith in the late 1930’s and a movement started to make this song our National Anthem. Again, opposition was raised by some because of the song’s evocation of religion and the argument was made that this, alone, made God Bless America unsuitable. (As I have noted, both the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful refer to God.)
God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above
From the mountains To the prairies,
To the ocean white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.
I would submit that God Bless America would be a fantastic substitution for our National Anthem. As an added reason, Irving Berlin donated all royalties to the Boy and Girl Scouts of the United States. A mensch.
My Country . . .’tis of Thee”
This song is certainly familiar to nearly all Americans and can be sung by the average person. I would not suggest it because the melody is from “God Save the Queen”, the British National Anthem, although this song was the de facto United States anthem during much of the nineteenth century. It is certainly a popular song/melody; it has been adopted as the National Anthem of Liechtenstein and, for a while, was the melody for the Anthem of the German empire prior to the first World War. The first verse is well known, the final verse, again, raises the issue of religion:
My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!
Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King.
The Stars and Stripes Forever
Several problems would seem to disqualify this “National March”. By Act of Congress, a composition of John Philip Sousa. First the lyrics are totally unfamiliar to the American public and far too many people learned the famous parody:
Be kind to your web-footed friends
For a duck may be somebody’s mother
Be kind to your friends in the swamp
Where the weather is very, very damp [pronounced to rhyme with “swamp”]
Now, you may think that this is the end…
WELL, IT IS!
So, if the Star Spangled Banner were replaced, what would be your suggestion?