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

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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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
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Take a Sneak Peek at the Brooklyn Museum's Upcoming David Bowie Exhibition
Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands

David Bowie was born in London, and spent his final years in New York. Which makes it fitting that an acclaimed traveling retrospective of the rocker’s career will end at the Brooklyn Museum in 2018, five years after it first kicked off at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Following a whirlwind global tour, “David Bowie is” will debut at the Brooklyn Museum on March 2, 2018, and run until July 15, 2018. Curated by the V&A, it features around 400 objects from the singer’s archives, including stage costumes, handwritten lyrics, photographs, set designs, and Bowie’s very own instruments.

Together, these items trace Bowie’s evolution as a performer, and provide new insights into “the creative process of an artist whose sustained reinventions, innovative collaborations, and bold characterizations revolutionized the way we see music, inspiring people to shape their own identities while challenging social traditions,” according to the Brooklyn Museum.

“David Bowie is” has received nearly 2 million visitors since it left the V&A in 2013. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the show is a timed ticketed exhibition, with priority access reserved for Brooklyn Museum members and certain ticket holders.

Tickets are on sale now, but you can take a sneak peek at some artifacts from "David Bowie is" below.

Photograph from the David Bowie album cover shoot for "Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph from the album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph by Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

Striped body suit worn by David Bowie during his "Aladdin Sane" tour in 1973

Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design by Kansai Yamamoto 

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from David Bowie's album Heroes, 1977

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from Heroes, 1977

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

A 1974 Terry O'Neill photograph of musician David Bowie with William Burroughs.
David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974. Photograph by Terry O'Neill with color by David Bowie.
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original photography for David Bowie's 1997 "Earthling" album cover

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997

Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3. © Frank W Ockenfels 3

Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

One of David Bowie's acoustic guitars from the “Space Oddity” era, 1969

Acoustic guitar from the Space Oddity era, 1969

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

An asymmetric knitted bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for musician David Bowie's 1973 "Aladdin Sane" tour.

Asymmetric knitted bodysuit, 1973. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour.

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

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