Over the centuries, the United States has seen the composition of several pieces of music that began with humble origins and matured into nationally recognized anthems. Now, as we honor the 4th of July holiday each year, it is interesting that military engineers examine these songs and the impact they have had on our society. Sung at both social and formal gatherings by citizens of every class and color, these songs fanned out across our young democracy and became part of our living history.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Although our official National Anthem is The Star Spangled Banner, several other songs have vied for this prestigious title over the years. One of the first, The Battle Hymn of The Republic began its life in 1862 when Julia Ward Howe penned the words to the tune in response to the need for an energetic marching song for use by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Her words were coupled with the music of a very popular military marching song called John Brown’s Body. Together the Battle Hymn became a rallying cry for the Union Army as well as for political interest groups dating all the way through to current times. If you become a professional singer, this song should be included in your repertoire.
My Country, Tis of Thee
The second oldest of all of our national anthem contenders, My Country, Tis of Thee is ironically based upon the British national anthem, God Save The Queen. Despite this fact, the song remained extremely popular throughout the 19th century.
America The Beautiful
Another contender for the honor of national anthem is America The Beautiful. Built upon the Francis Ward Smith hymn song titled Materna, America The Beautiful had a similar rise in prestige following its lyrical composition by scholar Katharine Lee Bates in 1893.
You’re A Grand Old Flag
Although never in contention for status as our national anthem, the George M. Cohan composition You’re A Grand Old Flag became a very popular part of early 1900’s American music and remains in use today. Written as a part of his Broadway musical production, “George Washington Jr.” in 1906, this well-known melody became the first song from a musical to sell over a million copies of sheet music.
The Star Spangled Banner
The ultimate winner in the public opinion contest that determined our national anthem, the words to The Star Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 as he observed a battle at Fort McHenry. Shortly after writing the words they were placed together with the music to a famous John Stafford Smith song, To Anacreon in Heaven.