Ray Charles’ had an instant hit in 1972 when he released “America the Beautiful,” from the album Message from the People.  His mellifluous, melismatic, gospel-influenced version of ‘America the Beautiful’ struck a chord with Americans, just as the song itself has for the last 120 years.  Although it was written  so long ago, the song has maintained persistent popularity since its inception. The well-known words to this patriotic song were written in 1893, published in 1895, by Katherine Lee Bates, a 34-year-old English Professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.  She wrote the lyrics and Samuel A. Ward wrote the music, but they each had written and published their part of the song separately for other venues.  Bates, at the time, wrote the poem after seeing the stunning beauty of our great country when she traveled to Colorado Springs to teach a summer school session at Colorado College in 1893.  She later published the poem in the July 4, 1895, edition of a church periodical called The Congregationalist, although she titled the poem “Pike’s Peak” in honor of the famous mountain with the same name in Colorado. 

After publication, her poem gained continual, ever-greater popularity as it was matched to various tunes that were in vogue at the time, but it wasn’t until 1910 that the two parts of the song came together, which would be, tragically, seven years after the death of Ward.  Bates and Ward would never even meet.

There’s a very interesting web article about the song at Pophistorydig.com.  Some excerpted quotes are pasted below:

“According to some accounts, the poem’s original author, Katherine Bates, was making [a] pointed critique in this verse of the materialistic and self-serving robber barons of the 1890s, and was urging America to live up to its more nobler self and ideals.  She was also honoring the memory of those who died for their country.  Charles too, in his selection of the second verse as lead, is making this emphasis as well and more, as Newark Star-Ledger columnist Charles Taylor explains in a 2004 article for Salon.com:

‘…Think about what that reordering does, what it means to hear those words before the familiar ‘O beautiful, for spacious skies…’  Beginning with images of sacrifice and death, then moving on to a prayer that asks — with no guarantee of being answered — that those sacrifices not be in vain, Ray Charles implies that America must earn the verse that follows.’”

As popular as the song was prior to Ray Charles’ release, his emphasis on the military sacrifice required to ensure liberty, as the Taylor article notes, certainly put it in a new light.  As noted yesterday, freedom is most certainly not free.  The highest price required is and has been paid by the blood, sweat, and tears of the nation’s veterans and currently serving troops, but I believe we all can and should contribute to the burden in some way, however large or small as God leads us. 

I pray that you enjoy your God-given rights and freedoms today in peace, security, and thankfulness.

 


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    I'm a retired soldier, having spent 23 years of my life serving our country, actually 30 years when you count the reserve and National Guard time as well.  I believe in servant leaders, following the example of our Lord, and I believe in giving back to the troops once one has attained a certain status or level of success in life.  But I also believe in fighting back against corruption and incompetence wherever you find it if it hurts people.  Our national values were worth dying for.  They are also worth living for.  A man or woman can actually live a life by these principles of humility, service, love, duty, and honor, and have a significant impact on the world around them...if you have the dedication to see it through. 

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