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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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10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

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30 Fierce Barbra Streisand Quotes
Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images
Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images

Barbra Streisand is an artist of many talents. In addition to her famed singing and songwriting career, she’s also a celebrated actress and filmmaker with a host of accolades and awards—including two Oscars, nine Golden Globes, 10 Grammys, six Emmys, and one Tony—on her resume (so far). While Streisand, who turns 76 years old today, may be one of the best-selling artists of all time, what truly makes her memorable is her total originality. While her creative talents made her a star, her no-nonsense attitude has made her an icon, as evidenced by the quotes below.

1. ON HER WILD YOUTH.

“I was kind of a wild child. I wasn't taught the niceties of life.”

2. ON PURSUING YOUR DREAMS.

“As a young woman, I wanted nothing more than to see my name in lights.”

3. ON REMAINING TRUE TO ONESELF.

“I arrived in Hollywood without having my nose fixed, my teeth capped, or my name changed. That is very gratifying to me.”

4. ON INSTINCT.

“I go by instinct—I don't worry about experience.”

5. ON BEING CONTRADICTORY.

Barbra Streisand on stage
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

“I was a personality before I became a person—I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.”

6. ON TRUSTING YOURSELF.

“You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.”

7. ON THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESS.

“Success to me is having 10 honeydew melons and eating only the top half of each slice.”

8. ON APPLAUSE.

“What does it mean when people applaud? Should I give 'em money? Say thank you? Lift my dress? The lack of applause—that I can respond to.”

9. ON BAD REVIEWS.

“I wish I could be like [George Bernard] Shaw, who once read a bad review of one of his plays, called the critic, and said: 'I have your review in front of me and soon it will be behind me.’”

10. ON THE DEFINITION OF “EGO.”

Barbra Streisand addresses her fans
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

“To have ego means to believe in your own strength. And to also be open to other people's views. It is to be open, not closed. So, yes, my ego is big, but it's also very small in some areas. My ego is responsible for my doing what I do—bad or good.”

11. ON DOUBLE STANDARDS.

“Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work.”

12. ON SAYING WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND.

“I knew that with a mouth like mine, I just had to be a star or something.”

13. ON THE LESS GLAMOROUS SIDE OF SHOW BUSINESS.

“I don't enjoy public performances and being up on a stage. I don't enjoy the glamour. Like tonight, I am up on stage and my feet hurt.”

14. ON GETTING IT RIGHT.

“I don't care what you say about me. Just be sure to spell my name wrong.”

15. ON FOLLOWING YOUR HEART.

A photo of Barbra Streisand
Harry Benson, Express/Getty Images

“Nobody on this earth has the right to tell anyone that their love for another human being is morally wrong.”

16. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH.

“I can take any truth; just don't lie to me.”

17. ON KEEPING IT SIMPLE.

“I like simple things. Elastic waists, so I can eat.”

18. ON WHY BEING “DIFFICULT” CAN BE A GOOD THING.

“I've been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.”

19. ON LIMITATIONS.

“I just don't want to be hampered by my own limitations.”

20. ON THE TRUTHFULNESS OF AN AUDIENCE.

"The audience is the best judge of anything. They cannot be lied to. Truth brings them closer. A moment that lags—they're gonna cough.”

21. ON FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH.

Barbra Streisand and James Brolin
Sonia Moskowitz, Getty Images

“What is exciting is not for one person to be stronger than the other ... but for two people to have met their match and yet they are equally as stubborn, as obstinate, as passionate, as crazy as the other.”

22. ON THE FUTILITY OF MYTHS.

“Myths are a waste of time. They prevent progression.”

23. ON THE NATURE OF PERFORMING.

“Performing, for me, has always been a very inner process.”

24. ON THE DOWNSIDE OF STARDOM.

“I think when I was younger, I wanted to be a star, until I became a star, and then it's a lot of work. It's work to be a star. I don't enjoy the stardom part. I only enjoy the creative process.”

25. ON THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE.

“Sometimes you resent the people you love and need the most. Love is so fascinating in all its forms, and I think everyone who has ever been a mother will relate to this.”

26. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOUBTING YOURSELF.

Barbra Streisand poses for the press
Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

"Doubt can motivate you, so don't be afraid of it. Confidence and doubt are at two ends of the scale, and you need both. They balance each other out."

27. ON AMBITION.

"I've always liked working really hard and then doing nothing in particular. So, consequently, I didn't overexpose myself; I guess I maintained a kind of mystery. I wasn't ambitious."

28. ON CONSTANTLY EVOLVING.

“I'm a work in progress.”

29. ON HER FAMOUS NOSE.

“I've considered having my nose fixed. But I didn't trust anyone enough. If I could do it myself with a mirror.”

30. ON BEING AN ORIGINAL.

Barbra Streisand with Barack Obama
Alex Wong, Getty Images

“I guess if you have an original take on life, or something about you is original, you don't have to study people who came before you. You don't have to mimic anybody. You just have a gut feeling inside, an instinct that tells you what's right for you, and you can't do it in any other way.”

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