On Music: Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" - Was it partly plagiarized?

Image credit: 

Was the unofficial national anthem of the United States lifted from a couple different sources? Consider the following:

In 1906 a trio of Irish songwriters scored a minor vaudeville hit with the song "When Mose with his Nose Leads the Band." An eighteen-year-old named Israel Baline probably heard the song because he worked as a singing waiter and needed to know all the hits, big and small. One never knew what a table might request.

As Jody Rosen says in the liner notes from a recent re-release of "When Mose with his Nose Leads the Band" (Reboot Stereophonic): "A decade later, Baline had a new name, Irving Berlin, an exalted place among popular songwriters, and a habit of interpolating bits of half-remembered songs into his own numbers," which is exactly what he did when he wrote "God Bless America" in 1918. As you'll hear in the following two examples, the opening strains of the chorus from each song are identical, note for note.

"God Bless America" [excerpt]

"When Mose with his Nose Leads the Band" [excerpt]

As for Berlin's lyrics, take a close look at this little excerpt from another song (a very obscure song) called "God Bless America" written by Robert Montgomery Bird published over 80 years before Berlin's (1834, to be exact):

God bless America!/God bless the land, the land beloved

[Compare that to Berlin's: God bless America!/Land that I love"¦]

irving_berlin.jpgNow, whether or not Berlin lifted part of the tune, or part of the lyric, it's still an amazing song. And, as I've noted in this feature before, refusing to make money off his deep-seated patriotism, Berlin donated all the royalties from his version of "God Bless America" to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls.

So it's hard to nitpick. But still, one can't help but wonder if part of the decision to do so was possibly/maybe/perhaps (just perhaps) due to the fact that he possibly/maybe/perhaps felt an eensey weensey pang of guilt? Eh? Eh? A soupçon, maybe?

What do you all think?

More from mental_floss...

January 27, 2008 - 3:56pm
webby
submit to reddit