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Jul 12

Music Notes: Patriotic Tunes

Posted on July 12, 2017 at 11:27 AM by Elizabeth Land

Notes from the Music Staff logoStaff Note: Notes from the Music Staff is a series of posts discussing what the library offers music fans. From our widely varied collection of music CDs to our nonfiction and fiction books covering all aspects of music, we've got something for everyone and we want to share our love of music with you!

Now is a great time to celebrate the music of America, which has its roots in the various countries that peopled the USA. They brought with them religious songs or hymns as well as pub and popular songs, many of which we adapted for new purpose. Early American patriotic music inspired and motivated citizens to enlist in the military, promoted valor in the field and cheered on our fighting forces. You can find CDs of patriotic music on display at Tabb Library right now. A list of patriotic CDs are available by searching the online catalog. Come check them out or reserve your copy today! Here is a deeper look at the top patriotic songs: 

Patriotic Music Timeline


Yankee Doodle

Though often played during events honoring America's revolutionary era, "Yankee Doodle" was originally sung prior to the Revolution by British military officers who mocked the unorganized and buckskin-wearing 'Yankees' with whom they fought during the French and Indian War.

The Star Spangled Banner?
"The Star Spangled Banner," sung to a drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven," is based on a poem by Francis Scott Key called "Defense of Ft. McHenry." During the War of 1812, Key tried to negotiate the release of a local doctor. The British, unwilling to release Key or his fellow negotiator, held these Americans on board as the British navy attacked Fort McHenry. Seeing the American flag still flying the next morning in Baltimore harbor, Key was inspired to write his famous poem. "The Star Spangled Banner" became America’s national anthem by President Wilson's executive order in 1916. Congress confirmed this in 1931.

The 1812 Overture

Although played at Fourth of July celebrations, "The 1812 Overture" has no connection with American history. Piotr Tchaikovsky wrote this song for the dedication ceremony of a Moscow church in 1882. Public donations celebrating the Russian defeat of Napoleon in a different War of 1812 funded this church's construction. The musical movements reflect various stages of this military conflict.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Julia Ward Howe, wife of a Boston abolitionist, wrote this hymn during the Civil War after visiting the Union army encamped on the Potomac near Washington, D.C. The hymn first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862 and went on to become the rallying anthem of Union soldiers. It later inspired American soldiers in World War II as well as civil rights activists in the 1960s. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is the source of the title for John Steinbeck's book "Grapes of Wrath".

My Country 'Tis of Thee/America

Samuel Smith wrote this song while studying in a seminary outside of Boston, MA. Based on the melody from Britain's national anthem "God Save the King," it was first performed in 1831 at a children's Independence Day celebration in Boston. It became the unofficial national anthem of the US for most of the 19th century.

You're a Grand Ole' Flag

Written by George Cohan for the musical "George Washington, Jr.," it debuted on the play's opening night of Feb. 6, 1906. This is the first song from a musical to sell over one million copies of sheet music.

God Bless America

Irving Berlin wrote this song in 1918, but its tone was not in line with the comedic show for which it was written. When looking for peaceful song as war loomed in Europe two decades later, Berlin pulled this tune off the shelves and modified it to reflect current conditions. The radio broadcast of Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" on Armistice Day in 1938 rocketed this song to national acclaim. Woody Guthrie, unhappy with Berlin's song, wrote "This Land is Your Land" in 1940 in response to this patriotic tune.