Music and the Spoken Word

“God Bless America” - Sunday, July 5, 2015

Irving Berlin, America’s most successful songwriter, was born in a small Russian village near the Siberian border. Threats of violence forced his family to flee Russia when he was only five years old, and they eventually found a home in the United States.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that when the well-known singer Kate Smith asked Irving Berlin to write a patriotic song for her, he wrote what he called “a ballad of home. It’s not a song about a flag, or liberty, or something like that,” he said. “It’s a song about home. Instead of the home being a little cottage, it’s America.”

“God Bless America” became an unofficial national anthem of the United States almost from the moment Kate Smith sang it on the radio in 1938. It earned Irving Berlin a Congressional gold medal, but it has never earned him a dime in royalties—all proceeds from the song are donated to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

It also became Kate Smith’s signature song. In 1982, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. In bestowing the award, President Ronald Reagan said: “Those simple but deeply moving words, ‘God bless America,’ have taken on added meaning for all of us because of the way Kate Smith sang them. Thanks to her they have become a cherished part of all our lives, an undying reminder of the beauty, the courage and the heart of this great land of ours.”

“God Bless America” is both an anthem and a prayer—a petition for God’s blessings upon the nation. Through nearly eight decades of good times and hard times, “God Bless America” has stood as a reaffirmation of the sacred truth that we need heaven’s blessing to see us through the days ahead.

Today “God Bless America” is still sung at concerts, sporting and community events, patriotic celebrations, and anytime a spirit of hope and unity is needed. “When storms clouds gather,” as it seems they always do, we surely need that “light from above.” With hearts stirred with humility and gratitude for this “land that we love,” let us join in joyful prayer, “God bless America.”