Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n born band...
The music for "Hail Columbia" was composed by Philip Phile (Pfeil), believed to be one of a number of German musicians who immigrated to the United States in its earliest years of independence. Its words were composed nine years later by Joseph Hopkinson, a Philadelphia Judge.
Phile was a violinist who, by 1779, worked in a New York theater orchestra. His tune "Washington's March," or "President's March," was first played ceremonially in Trenton, New Jersy to honor George Washington. In April 1789, as president-elect of the new United States, Washington journeyed from Mount Vernon, Virginia, to New York city for his, and the nation's, first presidential inauguration. All along his path there were celebrations in his honor and on April 21 he reached Trenton, New Jersey. Harper's Magazine described Washington's entry into Trenton this way:
On the bridge which spanned the Assanpink Creek, over which, twelve years before, the Hessians fled in confusion, he passed under a great dome supported by thirteen columns, and adorned with a huge sunflower, inscribed "To thee alone." The women of Trenton had ordered this put up, and just beyond the bridge were waiting, with their daughters, who, as he passed under the dome, began singing...
-- "Washington's Inauguration" by John Bach McMaster in Harper's New Monthly Magazine April 1889.
We do not know the exact moment that the "President's March" was played during Washington's stop in Trenton. We do know the tune was published in 1793 and soon appeared in various instrumental tutors of the day.
Joseph Hopkinson, who wrote the poem that was eventually attached to Phile's music, was the son of the New Jersey patriot Francis Hopkinson. The Hopkinson family was close enough to Washington that in 1798, shortly after he added words to Philip Phile's tune, the young Hopkinson wrote to the retired Washington and sent him a copy of the re-invented "President's March."
Hopkinson composed words to go with Phile's march tune about nine years after its first debut. He wrote the words that eventually changed the song's title to "Hail Columbia" at the request of a singer-actor named Gilbert Fox. Fox was desperate to find rousing lyrics for the march, which he had chosen to include in a vastly undersold benefit concert scheduled to be held within days. On a Sunday afternoon Fox went to the talented Judge Hopkinson and, in Hopkinson's words:
His prospects were very disheartening; but he said that if he could get a patriotic song adapted to "The President's March" he did not doubt of a full house, that the poets of the theatrical corp had been trying to accomplish it, but had not succeeded. I told him I would try what I could do for him. He came the next afternoon and the song, such as it is, was ready for him.
-- Oscar G. T. Sonneck, Report on the 'Star Spangled Banner,' 'Hail Columbia,' 'America,' and 'Yankee Doodle', p.43.
The Fox concert opened at Philadelphia's New Theatre the following Wednesday, April 25, 1798. And "Hail Columbia" was a true show stopper. The audience called for repeated (some say twelve) encores and joined in the chorus. A few nights later President Adams and other members of the government, then resident in Philadelphia, caught the show.
Up until the 1890s "Hail Columbia" was played as the de facto national anthem of the United States. President Lincoln once mentioned he had to stand up and take off his hat when "Hail Columbia" was sung. Many Europeans actually took it to be the U.S. anthem and played it accordingly. In 1889 it was played in that fashion to honor Thomas Edison as he entered the Paris Opera House.
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