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11 Things You May Not Know About "God Bless America"

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You may know all the words, but how much do you know about the song itself?

© Jeff Spielman/Corbis

1. Yip Yap Yaphank

Written in 1918 while Berlin was an Army sergeant stationed in upstate New York, it was intended for a musical comedy revue about army life called Yip Yip Yaphank. The song's earnest tone ("It's a little sticky," was Berlin's assessment) didn't quite mesh with the show's light-hearted spirit, so Berlin squirreled it away in his songwriting trunk (an actual wooden trunk full of unused songs and half-finished ideas that Berlin opened whenever he was stuck for inspiration).

2. World War II

Twenty years later, on the eve of World War II, Berlin wanted to write something to stir the country's patriotic spirit. He started a song called "Thanks, America," then abandoned it. He tried again with "Let's Talk About Liberty," but didn't get very far. Then he remembered "God Bless America," and saw that it was perfect for the occasion.

3. To the Right

Berlin made one significant change in the lyrics. As he explained in the 1940s: "The original ran, 'Stand beside here and guide her to the right with a light from above.' In 1918, the phrase 'to the right' had no political significance, as it has now. So for obvious reasons, I changed the phrase to 'Through the night with a light from above.'"

4. "When Mose With His Nose Leads the Band"

Several music historians have observed that a six-note phrase from a 1906 Jewish dialect song, "When Mose with His Nose Leads the Band," forms the opening melody of "God Bless America." A coincidence? Maybe not. When Berlin was a kid, he earned change singing comedy songs and hits of the day on the streets of New York, and he would have doubtless heard the tune. He probably just interpolated it into his own composition without realizing.

5. God Bless America Fund

After Kate Smith's rendition of the song became a sensation in 1938, royalties started pouring in. But Berlin felt conflicted about making money from a patriotic song. So he assigned the copyright of the song (along with 17 other of his lesser-known tunes) to the God Bless America Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for New York-area Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

6. "This Land Is Your Land"

One person who didn't like Berlin's anthem was folk singer Woody Guthrie. It's said that he got so fed up with hearing Kate Smith on the radio, he wrote a rebuttal in "This Land Is Your Land." In the original version of Guthrie's classic, he painted pictures of a desolate, corrupt country, ending each verse with "God blessed America for you and me."

7. The Philadelphia Flyers

In the early 1970s, Kate Smith's version of "God Bless America" was adopted by the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, after they noticed that they always seemed to win whenever the song was performed before a home game. Before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins, Smith sang the song in person. Bruins captain Phil Esposito presented Smith with a bouquet of roses when she finished, in an attempt to jinx the good luck charm. It didn't work, and the Flyers went on to win the Cup. To this day, the song retains its mysterious influence with the team. Philadelphia's record when "God Bless America" has been played or sung in person pre-game is 94 wins, 26 losses.

8. 9/11

After the tragic events of 9/11, members of Congress assembled that evening to belt out a non-partisan version of "God Bless America." In the weeks ahead, the song became a kind of unofficial national anthem, sung at baseball playoff and World Series games, and after Broadway shows during curtain calls.

9. The Ed Sullivan Show

At 80 years old, a long-retired and reclusive Irving Berlin appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show to sing a plaintive rendition of "God Bless America."

10. Land That I Love

Though it is often praised for being an all-inclusive anthem, the song was a very personal statement for Berlin, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who went from rags to riches. The second line, "Land that I love," is a tip-off that this is Berlin's expression of gratitude to the country.

11. Atlantis

On July 21, 2011, "God Bless America" was played as NASA's final wake-up call for the space shuttle Atlantis, ending the thirty-year shuttle program.

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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technology
ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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Art
6 Great (and Not-So-Great) Works of Art Made by Robots
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Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

Cold, calculating, unfeeling—none of the stereotypes associated with robots seem to describe makers of great art. But that hasn’t stopped roboticists from trying to engineer the next Picasso in a lab. Some machines and algorithms are capable of crafting works impressive enough to fool even the toughest critics. As for the rest of the robot artists and writers out there, let’s just say they won’t have creative types fearing for their jobs anytime soon. 

1. A BEATLES-ESQUE POP SONG

If you heard the song above at a party or in a crowded store, you might assume it’s just a generic pop tune. But if you listened closer, you’d hear the dissonant vocals and nonsense lyrics that place this number in the sonic equivalent of the uncanny valley. “Daddy’s Car” was composed by an artificial intelligence system from the Sony CSL Research Laboratory. After analyzing sheet music from a variety of artists and genres, the AI generated the words, harmony, and melody for the song. A human composer chose the style (1960s Beatles-style pop) and did the producing and mixing, but other than that the music is all machine. It may not have topped the pop charts, but the song did give us the genius lyric: “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun.”

2. A NOVEL THAT MADE IT PAST THE FIRST ROUND OF A FICTION CONTEST

Will the next War and Peace be written by a complex computer algorithm? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that AI can’t compose some serviceable fiction with help from human minds. In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers invented a program and fed it the plot, characters, and general structure of an original story. They also wrote sentences for the system to choose from, so the content of the novel relied heavily on humans. But the final product and the work required to string the components together was made possible by AI. The researchers submitted the story to Japan's Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Contest where it made it past the first round of judging. Though one notable Japanese author praised the novel for its structure, he also said there were some character description issues holding it back.

3. A 'NEW' REMBRANDT PAINTING

Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, a 3D printer did something extraordinary: It produced a brand new painting in the spirit of a long-dead artist. The piece, titled “The Next Rembrandt,” would fit right in at an exhibition of art from the 17th-century Dutch painter. But this work is entirely modern. Bas Korsten, creative director at the Amsterdam-based advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, had a computer program analyze 346 Rembrandt paintings over 18 months. Every element of the final image, from the age of the subject and the color of his clothes to the physical brushstrokes, is reminiscent of the artist’s distinct style. But while it’s good enough to fool the amateur art fan, it failed to hold up under scruntiny from Rembrandt experts.

4. DREARY LOVE POETRY

What do you get when you dump thousands of unpublished romance novels into an AI system? Some incredibly bleak poetry, as Google discovered in 2016. The purpose of the neural network was to connect two separate sentences from a book into one whole thought. The result gave us such existential gems as this excerpt:

"there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry."

To be fair, the algorithm was designed to construct natural-sounding sentences rather than write great verse. But that doesn’t stop the passages from sounding oddly poetic.

5. A CREEPY CHRISTMAS SONG

Christmas songs rely heavily on formulas and cliches, aka ideal neural network fodder. So you’d think that an AI program would be capable of whipping up a fairly decent holiday tune, but a project from the University of Toronto proved this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Their algorithm was prompted to compose the song above based on a digital image of a Christmas tree. From there it somehow came up with trippy lyrics like, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.”

6. A CROWDSOURCED ABSTRACT PAINTING

Art made by a robot.
Instapainter

The image above was painted by the mechanical arm of a robot, but naming the true artist of the piece gets complicated. That’s because the robotic painter was controlled by multiple users on the internet. In 2015, the commissioned art service Instapainting invited the online community at Twitch to crowdsource a painting. The robot, following script commands over a 36-hour period, produced what looks like graffiti-inspired abstract art. More impressive than the painting itself was the fact that the machine was able to paint it at all. Instapainting founder Chris Chen told artnet, “It was a $250 machine slapped together with quickly written software, so running it for that long was an endurance test.”

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