God Bless America
America's "unofficial national anthem" was composed by an immigrant who left his home in Siberia for America when he was only five years old. The original version of "God Bless America" was written by Irving Berlin (1888-1989) during the summer of 1918 at Camp Upton, located in Yaphank, Long Island, for his Ziegfeld-style revue, Yip, Yip, Yaphank.
"Make her victorious on land and foam, God Bless America..." ran the original lyric.
However, Berlin decided that the solemn tone of "God Bless America" was somewhat out of keeping with the more comedic elements of the show and the song was laid aside.
In the fall of 1938, as war was again threatening Europe, Berlin decided to write a "peace" song. He recalled his "God Bless America" from twenty years earlier and made some alterations to reflect the different state of the world. Singer Kate Smith introduced the revised "God Bless America" during her radio broadcast on Armistice Day, 1938. The song was an immediate sensation; the sheet music was in great demand. Berlin soon established the God Bless America Fund, dedicating the royalties to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.
Berlin's file of manuscripts and lyric sheets for this quintessentially American song includes manuscripts in the hand of Berlin's longtime musical secretary, Helmy Kresa (Berlin himself did not read and write music), as well as lyric sheets, and corrected proof copies for the sheet music.
These materials document not only the speed with which Berlin revised this song, but also his attention to detail. The first proof copy is dated October 31, 1938; the earliest "final" version of the song is a manuscript dated November 2; and Kate Smith's historic broadcast took place on November 11. These documents show the song's step-by-step evolution from the original version of 1918 to the tune we now know.
These manuscripts are part of the Irving Berlin Collection, a remarkable collection that includes Berlin's personal papers as well as the records of the Irving Berlin Music Corp. It was presented to the Library of Congress in 1992, by Berlin's daughters, Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Louise Emmet, and Elizabeth Irving Peters.
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