America the Beautiful
Even by reading the title “America the Beautiful”, one can deduce that this song is patriotic in nature. In fact it is one of the most-enduring expressions of patriotism in American history, which many have seriously considered (and argued for) making the country’s national anthem. In fact it did replace the national anthem, at some events, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
And the lyrics fundamentally center on two ideas. First is that America is indeed beautiful, as in being aesthetically-pleasing, fruitful and blessed by God. Part of its beauty is also in its ‘gleaming alabaster cities’, as created by man. And the second idea is that the singer wants God to continue to bless the land. In other words, she wants the people to behave and live up to the favor that they have been granted.
So the song is, to some degree, Christian in nature. That is to say that in addition to the references to “God”, there is also a strong moral undertone. Indeed it is not so idealistic that the singer ignores “every flaw” of the United States. Rather she is counting on her countrymen, via divine providence, to not only strive for “success” but also “nobleness”.
Facts about “America the Beautiful”
This song was written by two different musicians, who never met, at two different times. As far as the lyrics are concerned, they have been credited to one Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), an English professor at Wellesley College. They were originally a poem entitled Pikes Peak (and subsequently America) which was first made public, via a church publication called The Congregationalist, in 1895. And it should be noted that they did in fact do so as part of their Fourth of July issue for that year.
Pikes Peak is actually the name of a mountaintop in Colorado which offers a breathtaking view of the landscape. And the reason the song was originally named after it is because Katharine Bates was inspired to write the aforementioned poem after visiting that location in particular. Moreover, the lyrical reference to “purple mountain majesties” apparently points to Pikes Peak.
Meanwhile the composer of the music was Samuel A. Ward (1848-1903), who was a church organist in New Jersey. The instrumental, which he originally wrote in 1882, was entitled Materna and was meant to be used alongside a hymn called O Mother Dear, Jerusalem. And his composition beat out nearly 100 others that were used in conjunction with America at the time, going on to become the standard instrumental of the song.
Meanwhile America and Materna were first published together as “America the Beautiful” in 1910.
Of course numerous artists have covered this song throughout the years. The most-famous of all to do so in many peoples’ minds would likely the late Ray Charles. His 1970s made it onto the Billboard R&B chart in addition eventually being enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame (in 2005). Mr. Charles put forth a stunning performance of the song at the Republic National Convention of 1984, in front of the likes of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
Frank Sinatra (alongside Nelson Riddle) also came out with his own version in 1963.
Coca-Cola created a commercial, which it aired during a couple of Super Bowls (2014, 2017) as well as two Olympics (2014, 2016), featuring “America the Beautiful” being sung in different languages. And as to be expected, some people took offense to this rendition.
One of the most-famous lines of this song, “from sea to shining sea”, actually dates back to the days of the United States being a collection of English colonies.
Latina songstress Jennifer Lopez also laid down America the Beautiful at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden in 2021.
At said inauguration ceremony, Lopez performed the song alongside another iconic American song titled “This Land Is Your Land“.