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Thomas Richmond

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12/30/2009 4:18:48 AM

In 1893, at the age of thirty-three Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College. Several of the sights on her trip inspired her, and they found their way into her poem, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the "White City" with its promise of the future contained within its alabaster buildings; the wheat fields of America's heartland Kansas, through which her train was riding on July 4; and the majestic view of the Great Plains from high atop Zebulon's Pikes Peak.

On the pinnacle of 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. A hymn tune composed by Samuel A. Ward was generally considered the best music as early as 1910 and is still the popular tune today. Just as Bates had been inspired to write her poem, Ward too was inspired to compose his tune. 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 in 1882, and he immediately wrote it down. He was so anxious to capture the tune in his head, he asked fellow passenger friend Harry Martin for his shirt cuff to write the tune on, thus perhaps the off the cuff analogy. He composed the tune for the old hymn "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem", retitling the work "Materna". Ward's music combined with Bates' poem were first published together in 1910 and titled, America the Beautiful.

Ward died in 1903, not knowing the national stature his music would attain, as the music was only first applied to the song in 1904. 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, 2001 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.

An all-star version of "America the Beautiful" performed by country music singers Trace Adkins, Billy Dean, Vince Gill, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Toby Keith, Brenda Lee, Lonestar, Martina McBride, Jamie O'Neal, Kenny Rogers and Keith Urban reached #58 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in July 2001. The song re-entered the chart following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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."

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

"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.

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Kathleen Vanbeekom

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12/30/2009 4:36:46 AM

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for all the great info, you put a lot of details into everything, I never knew who wrote the song and I'm gladly surprised to find out it was a woman! I'm also a big fan of Ray Charles!

-------Here's to you and Katharine and Ray-------

"When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."
- George Washington Carver

Jim Allen

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12/30/2009 3:15:57 PM
Hey Thomas,

First a Happy New Year to you, in case we fail to connect. Second, I enjoyed the information and would like to offer my favorite rendition.

Also my favorite local station at noon eastern everyday plays the National Anthem performed by various country artists of our time. I know I am a southern rocker but today's country has a southern rock flair you must admit.

Okay here a re a few more I really like too.

America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass
The National Park Service is an important participantin the new Interagency Pass Program which was created by the FederalLands Recreation Enhancement Act and authorized by Congress in December2004. Participating agencies include the National Park Service, U.S.Department of Agriculture - Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service,Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. The pass series,collectively known as the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, is shownby following this link

May Wisdom and the knowledge you gained go with you,

Jim Allen III
Skype: JAllen3D
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12/30/2009 5:55:37 PM

Thomas, thank you dear friend for all the wonderful information you have posted here. I will post the link in my forum also, Here's to the United States of America.

This says it all.


Flash Smith

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12/30/2009 7:01:57 PM
Thank You Thomas for Very Good Information. I never knew about 90% of what you said there in your post. And I thought I was Smart!!
Well, that just goes to show you "No Matter How Much You Know, There is Someone out there that Knows More than You do?" Namely ME!!

That Post should Go Down In History as the Best To Date !!

Thanks Again
Happy New Year

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