"Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, July 4, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: God Bless America

Of course you know today is the Fourth of July, our national day of independence.  From what I understand, we Americans tend to be more overtly patriotic than people of other countries.  Whether that means we love our country more than others love theirs I am not certain.  Dante in his Purgatorio links love of one’s fellow citizen as a special part of loving one’s neighbor.  So I can’t imagine people from other countries are not patriotic, since within all of humanity God has instilled love of neighbor.  But our American demonstrative patriotism surely doesn’t mean we love our country less.  We place flags in the front of our homes; every year infinite versions of our history are rewritten and sold;, we idolize our founding fathers; of the ten national holidays, seven reflect our history: Martin Luther King’s Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, and Thanksgiving; we are forced to memorize parts of our founding documents; we mutter the pledge of allegiance in school every morning; and we have a variety of national songs articulating the praises of our fair land. 

Of our national songs, three I would say have been institutionalized as songs that are part of our civil consciousness.  There is "The Star Spangled Banner," our national anthem, with its intricate melodic shifts and intricate lyrics, which is no surprise since the song was derived from a poem.  There is "America the Beautiful," which I think has the most beautiful melody of the patriotic songs.  And then there is "God Bless America" which is the simplest of all the songs, both in melody and lyrics.  It is so simple that one thinks, how could that be make it so big and so engrained in our identity?  The song was written back in 1918 by Irving Berlin, who wrote so many of what became known as the American Songbook of songs, and it was made popular by Kate Smith, “the first lady of radio” who made it her signature song.  The song—so fitting for one of my Faith Filled Friday posts—is a prayer, displaying the simplicity of a request to our Creator.

 

God bless America,

Land that I love,

Stand beside her, and guide her

Through the night with a light from above.

From the mountains, to the prairies,

To the oceans, white with foam

God bless America, My home sweet home

God bless America, My home sweet home.

 

That’s the whole song.  But I have to say my heart just wraps around the song.  Is it the invocation of God?  Is it the humility in the petition for guidance?  Is it the cross continental embrace from the west coast to Rocky Mountains to the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean?  Is it the simple expression of love for this abstract entity we call our nation?  It’s all of that, but I can tell you my lips quiver every time I get to the part “My home sweet home.”  God, humility, continent, love of country seem to congeal into my home.  There is something archetypical about this song.   

I’m going to embed three versions which grabbed me as I started searching for the perfect rendition.  The first is a cappella by Sgt Christine Permenter, part of a some Army band, and she sings it live at last year’s Baseball World Series.  I love the way she sings it in a lower female register. 


 
 

And then I have to say I really love Celine Dion’s version.  This was recorded post 9-11.  She slows the tempo down a notch and the arrangement is exquisite.  Here’s a clip with notable quotes from our history. 


 

 
And finally, one has to end with the signature version, the Kate Smith version.  Frank Sinatra said something to the effect (don’t exactly quote me) that Kate Smith was the singer whose voice he most envied.


 

 
Hmm, all three versions I most admired were by female singers.  Does this song suit a woman’s voice best?  Or is it my ear that is tuned to a woman singing it?  I don’t know.
 

With God’s blessing, have a happy Fourth of July.

 

2 comments:

  1. Happy belated Fourth of July God Bless America Day to you and yours Manny.

    God Bless Peace

    ReplyDelete