Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill,

that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. 
                                               ~John F. Kennedy                                 

Despite this weekend being the kick-off of the summer season here at the Jersey shore, it is good to remember that the beach, the Boardwalk, and the businesses are here because men and women gave their lives to maintain our freedoms.
 I happened on a copy of the sheet music for "God Bless America," and I wondered about its history.  Many of us connect the song with Kate Smith...
In my research I found that Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1918 while serving the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, but he decided that it did not fit in a revue called Yip Yip Yaphank.  Fortunately, he kept it, and in 1938, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Berlin, who was Jewish and a Russian immigrant, felt it was time to revive it as a "peace song." It was introduced on an Armistice Day broadcast in 1938, sung by Kate Smith on her radio show.

Woody Guthrie criticized the song, which he considered unrealistic and complacent, and in 1940 he wrote "This Land Is Your Land," originally titled "God Blessed America For Me," as a response. Anti-Semitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan also protested the song due to its authorship by a Jewish immigrant.
Berlin gave the royalties of the song to the God Bless America Fund for redistribution to the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA. Smith performed the song on her two NBC television series in the 1950s and in her short-lived The Kate Smith Show on CBS, which aired on from January 25 to July 18, 1960.

The song was used early in the Civil Rights Movement as well as at labor rallies. During the 1960s, the song was increasingly used by Christian conservatives in the US to signal their opposition to secular liberalism and to silence dissenters who were speaking in favor of communism or in opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Later, from December 11, 1969, through the early 1970s, the playing of Smith singing the song before many home games of the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers brought it renewed popularity as well as a reputation for being a "good luck charm" to the Flyers long before it became a staple of nationwide sporting events. The Flyers even brought Smith in to perform live before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974, and the Flyers won the Cup that day.

Among some of the tales that relate to the song, was one from August 26, 2008 when a fan at a Boston Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium attempted to leave for the restroom during the playing of the song.  He was restrained and ejected by NYPD officers. As part of the settlement of a subsequent lawsuit, the New York Yankees announced that they would no longer restrict the movement of fans during the playing of the song.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "God Bless America" is commonly sung during the seventh-inning stretch in Major League Baseball games, most often on Sundays, Opening Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, All-Star Game, Labor Day, September 11, and all post-season Major League Baseball games. Following the attacks, John Dever, then the Assistant Media Relations Director with the San Diego Padres, suggested the song replace "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", the more traditional 7th inning anthem.  MLB quickly followed the Padres lead and instituted it league-wide for the rest of the season; presently, teams decide individually when to play the song. Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, and Turner Field are currently the only Major League ballparks to play "God Bless America" in every game during the seventh-inning stretch. 
There is actually a book on this song!  It came out July 4, 2013, and Sheryl Kaskowitz tells the story behind our "other national anthem".   The review says, "After the attacks on September 11th, it was sung on the steps of the Capitol, at spontaneous memorial sites, and during the seventh inning stretch at baseball games, becoming even more deeply embedded in America's collective consciousness."

So, remember those who died "standing beside" America and "guiding" America, may God bless them as well.
“Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life.” 
                                                                         ~Bob Marley

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