God bless America,
Land that I love...
Shortly after becoming an American citizen in 1918, Irving Berlin, already a highly successful popular lyricist and composer, was inducted and stationed at Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island, New York. He beguiled his commanding officers into allowing him to write a rousing musical comedy review which would serve to raise both funds and Army morale. For the finale of this production, Yip, Yip, Yaphank, Berlin wrote the original "God Bless America." But he felt the song was too solemn for a comedy and put it aside for twenty years.
In the fall of 1938, as fascism and war threatened Europe, Irving Berlin decided to write a peace song. He recalled an unpublished version of a song that he had set aside in a trunk, took it out and shaped it into a second national anthem, "God Bless America."
Once Berlin decided to re-work the song, he worked in typical style: with speed and attention to detail. The first manuscript of "God Bless America" (in the hand of musical secretary Helmy Kresa) is dated October 31, 1938, and the earliest "final" version of the song is dated November 2.
It is said in show business that "timing is everything." During the three days Berlin revised "God Bless America," the singer Kate Smith asked him for a patriotic song to perform on her CBS radio program, to be broadcast from the New York World's Fair on November 10 to honor Armistice Day. Berlin wanted his song introduced by Smith's fine contralto voice and the combination created an instant hit. Berlin generously signed over his royalty money from the song to charity and the revenues went to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts of America.
Irving Berlin lived a long life, one hundred and one years, and built a catalog of over 1,000 songs. His first published song was "Marie from Sunny Italy" (1907) and his first major hit was "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911). He also wrote for Broadway and the movies. Among his most recognized songs are "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody," "Mandy," "White Christmas," "Always," "Cheek to Cheek," "Blue Skies," and "There's No Business Like Show Business."
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