Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Story behind God Bless America

I like to highlight Scouting Songs on the Blog from time to time. For the the 4th of July, I thought I'd tell about something that involves Religion, Patriotism and Even Scouting.

God Bless America

God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.

From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home. 

This CNN Story tells more details about the origins of the song, as well as how it ties into scouting.

In 1938, the vocalist Kate Smith was looking for a song to sing on her coast-to-coast CBS radio program to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day. She asked Berlin if he would write something for her.

He remembered a song he had begun years before, and had discarded. He brought it out and went back to work on it.

Thus it was that, on the CBS radio network one November night, Kate Smith delivered the first public performance of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

The acclaim was immediate and electrifying. The world was on the verge of a terrible new war; all over the United States, people heard Berlin's song and took it to their hearts.

He understood what a valuable property he had on his hands.

And he quietly made a firm decision:

He never wanted to make a penny from it.

He wanted whatever success the song had to be his gift to the nation he adored.

"He believed that the United States had rescued his life," Laurence Bergreen, author of the Berlin biography "As Thousands Cheer," told me. "This was his genuine patriotic gesture. He had a real soft spot for America, and this is how he expressed it."

Berlin instructed attorneys to draw up papers. He wanted to guarantee that every cent "God Bless America" ever earned went to a place that he thought would help to make the country's future brighter and stronger. In those months leading up to the U.S. entry into World War II, he selected the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts to receive the song's earnings -- specifically, he wanted the royalties to go to Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs in impoverished and disadvantaged areas.

His binding legal instructions are in effect to this day, 73 years after "God Bless America" was first sung by Kate Smith and 22 years after Berlin's death. So far, there has been more than $10 million distributed to Scouting programs, and it's still coming in.

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