From Peace To Patriotism: The Shifting Identity Of 'God Bless America' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

From Peace To Patriotism: The Shifting Identity Of 'God Bless America'

Play associated audio

In the fall of 1938, radio was huge. That Halloween, Orson Welles scared listeners out of their wits with his War of the Worlds. And on November 10, 1938 — the eve of the holiday that was known then as Armistice Day — the popular singer Kate Smith made history on her radio show. She sang a song that had never been sung before, written by the composer Irving Berlin.

The song began with a verse about storm clouds gathering overseas — World War II was just a year off — and it summoned Americans to sing a song to their free country. Then came words and music that Americans have sung ever since. Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" has not only endured, it has become a statement of patriotism, of home front support for troops at war, and, in the Vietnam era, an anthem of counter-protest. And while it has brought a lump to the throat of many an American, it has also annoyed many who hear it as a tune of syrupy nationalism and trivialized faith.

One mark of its unusual status: Irving Berlin took no royalties from it. Instead, he created a fund that collected them and distributed them to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts of America.

Sheryl Kaskowitz has written a book on Berlin's tune called God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song. In it, she explores the song's lyrical evolution and explains how its early popularity reflected the anxiety of the pre-war period and sparked a surprising anti-Semitic and xenophobic backlash. She speaks about it here with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Little House,' Big Demand: Never Underestimate Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wilder's memoir reveals that she witnessed more violence than you'd ever know from her children's books. The South Dakota State Historical Society can barely keep up with demand for the autobiography.
NPR

Coffee Horror: Parody Pokes At Environmental Absurdity Of K-Cups

The market for single-serving coffee pods is dominated by Keurig's K-Cups. But they aren't recyclable, and critics say that's making a monster of an environmental mess. Meet the K-Cup Godzilla.
NPR

The Next Air Force One Will Be A Boeing 747-8

The Air Force says the decision came down to the American-made 747-8 or the Airbus A380, which is manufactured in France. But even with that pick, the 747 program might not last much longer.
NPR

Charles Townes, Laser Inventor, Black Hole Discoverer, Dies At 99

Physicist Charles Townes died Tuesday. He was a key inventor of the laser and won the Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1964. But his career didn't end there.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.