Monday, July 04, 2011

An Annual Event

"... and amber waves of grain." (Okay it's still green, but it'll be amber grain in a couple of weeks.)

Yes, faithful readers, it's that fateful day again. For those of you fairly new to this blog, I have a particularly loud bee in my bonnet, and I let it out for a spin every U.S. Independence Day (aka Fourth of July). That bee is - we need a new national anthem.

I don't like "The Star Spangled Banner". It's a chest-thumping, militaristic poem about a particular battle early in our history, set to a British drinking tune, which explains why it's so hard to sing - you have to be drunk to sing it, and that rise up to the high note (... o'er the laaaaand of the freeeeee...) was where they raised their flagons high in the pub and spilled beer all over themselves. It doesn't say anything about the country, the people, and what the country is all about. All it's about is barely winning one battle. And as the character Belize says in Tony Kushner's Angels in America: "The white cracker who wrote the National Anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word free to a note so high nobody could reach it." (Yes, Francis Scott Key, the "poet" who composed the lyrics, was pro South, pro slavery, from a slave-holding family from Carroll County, MD.)

My suggestion for a new national anthem is "America the Beautiful". The words were written by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, in 1893 after a trip from Boston to Colorado Springs. The music was composed by Samuel A. Ward, a church organist and choirmaster. Unlike "The Star Spangled Banner", "America the Beautiful" is meant to be sung in a reverent and respectful manner and actually praises America for its beauty and principles. Let's face it, it's just a much more pleasant song, both lyrically and musically, than the current national anthem.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov'd,
And mercy more than life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.
Here's a beautiful orchestral/choral setting:

Of course, those of you in the audience who know me well know that my own favorite setting of "America the Beautiful" is the one by the late, great, never-to-be-forgotten Ray Charles. And in my never very humble opinion, instead of starting sports events off with wannabe superstars butchering an already botched piece of music, they ought to use those giant video screens in every arena and stadium and play one of the many videos of Brother Ray singing this song. Like this one:

Happy Fourth everybody!

Photo and text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. Reading "you have to be drunk to sing it, and that rise up to the high note... was where they raised their flagons high in the pub and spilled beer all over themselves," I laughed so hard at that line, I almost fell off of my computer chair!

    But my mood mellowed -- and I got a chill -- when you mentioned Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful." Perfect suggestion.

    Happy Fourth to you, my freind.

  2. All legit points. Have a happy 4th!

  3. Love Ray Charles singing this! And I do agree..America the Beautiful should be our National Anthem.

    And here I thought amber waves of grain was talking about wheat! ha.

    The corn is 'knee high by the fourth of july', isn't it! Never fails.

  4. I came by from Betsys place and wanted to say I could not agree is a much more beautiful song and I absolutely get chills when I hear Ray singing it...we must start a petition!

  5. I cast my vote last year. :)

  6. Absolutely right! I'll vote for that. Been saying so for years.

  7. Think yourself lucky. We have a National Anthem that has a verse (no longer sung I must add) which goes:

    "Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
    May by thy mighty aid,
    Victory bring.
    May he sedition hush,
    and like a torrent rush,
    Rebellious Scots to crush,
    God save the King".

  8. Ah always contentious. Our national anthem is absolutely horrible. Verbage and tune. I don't mind the Star Spangled Banner, I guess we're so used to hearing it but America the Beautiful is lyrically much more appropriate. Don't fancy your luck tho Roy. I think you're stuck with the high notes, hitch up your pants and sing!

  9. Roy! Have A Happy July 7th Too!

  10. ;~’ i was posting this topic on my blog too, this is really nice and interesting to my blog followers.