America the Beautiful

Last updated

America the Beautiful
America the Beautiful 1.jpg

Patriotic song of the United States
Also known as"Pikes Peak" (lyrics)
"Materna" (music)
Lyrics Katharine Lee Bates, 1895
Music Samuel A. Ward, 1883
Published1910 by Oliver Ditson & Co.
Audio sample
"America the Beautiful" as performed by the United States Navy Band

"America the Beautiful" is a patriotic American song. Its lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates and its music was composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. [1] The two never met. [2]


Bates wrote the words as a poem originally entitled "Pikes Peak". It was first published in the Fourth of July 1895 edition of the church periodical, The Congregationalist. It was at that time that the poem was first entitled "America".

Ward had initially composed the song's melody in 1882 to accompany lyrics to "Materna", basis of the hymn, "O Mother dear, Jerusalem", though the hymn was not first published until 1892. [3] The combination of Ward's melody and Bates's poem was first entitled "America the Beautiful" in 1910. The song is one of the most popular of the many U.S. patriotic songs. [4]


Commemoration plaque atop Pikes Peak in July 1999 Americathebeautiful.jpg
Commemoration plaque atop Pikes Peak in July 1999

In 1893, at the age of 33, Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to teach at Colorado College. [5] Several of the sights on her trip inspired her, and they found their way into her poem, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the "White City" with its promise of the future contained within its gleaming white buildings; [6] the wheat fields of America's heartland Kansas, through which her train was riding on July 16; and the majestic view of the Great Plains from high atop Pikes Peak. [7] [8]

On the pinnacle of that mountain, the words of the poem started to come to her, and she wrote them down upon returning to her hotel room at the original Antlers Hotel. The poem was initially published two years later in The Congregationalist to commemorate the Fourth of July. It quickly caught the public's fancy. An amended version was published in 1904.[ citation needed ] [9]

Historical marker at Grace Church in Newark where Samuel Ward worked as organist, and wrote and perfected the tune "Materna" that is used for "America the Beautiful". Grace Church Newark plaque.jpg
Historical marker at Grace Church in Newark where Samuel Ward worked as organist, and wrote and perfected the tune "Materna" that is used for "America the Beautiful".

The first known melody written for the song was sent in by Silas Pratt when the poem was published in The Congregationalist. By 1900, at least 75 different melodies had been written. [10] A hymn tune composed in 1882 by Samuel A. Ward, the organist and choir director at Grace Church, Newark, was generally considered the best music as early as 1910 and is still the popular tune today. Just as Bates had been inspired to write her poem, Ward, too, was inspired. The tune came to him while he was on a ferryboat trip from Coney Island back to his home in New York City after a leisurely summer day and he immediately wrote it down. He composed the tune for the old hymn "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem", retitling the work "Materna". Ward's music combined with Bates's poem were first published together in 1910 and titled "America the Beautiful". [11]

Ward died in 1903, not knowing the national stature his music would attain. Bates was more fortunate, since the song's popularity was well established by the time of her death in 1929. [10] It is included in songbooks in many religious congregations in the United States. [12]

At various times in the more than one hundred years that have elapsed since the song was written, particularly during the John F. Kennedy administration, there have been efforts to give "America the Beautiful" legal status either as a national hymn or as a national anthem equal to, or in place of, "The Star-Spangled Banner", but so far this has not succeeded. Proponents prefer "America the Beautiful" for various reasons, saying it is easier to sing, more melodic, and more adaptable to new orchestrations while still remaining as easily recognizable as "The Star-Spangled Banner". Some prefer "America the Beautiful" over "The Star-Spangled Banner" due to the latter's war-oriented imagery; others prefer "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the same reason. While that national dichotomy has stymied any effort at changing the tradition of the national anthem, "America the Beautiful" continues to be held in high esteem by a large number of Americans, and was even being considered before 1931 as a candidate to become the national anthem of the United States. [13]


America. A Poem for July 4.

Original poem (1893) [14]

O great for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O great for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O great for glory-tale
Of liberating strife,
When once or twice, for man's avail,
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!

O great for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

1904 version [15]
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

O great for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife,
When valiantly for man's avail
Men lavished precious life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

1911 version [16]
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Katharine Lee Bates, ca. 1880-1890 Portrait of Katharine Lee Bates, ca. 1880-1890.jpg
Katharine Lee Bates, ca. 1880–1890

Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961).

Frank Sinatra recorded the song with Nelson Riddle during the sessions for The Concert Sinatra in February 1963, for a projected 45 single release. The 45 was not commercially issued however, but the song was later added as a bonus track to the enhanced 2012 CD release of The Concert Sinatra .

In 1976, while the United States celebrated its bicentennial, a soulful version popularized by Ray Charles peaked at number 98 on the US R&B chart. [17] [lower-alpha 1] His version was traditionally played on New Year's Eve in Times Square following the ball drop.

Three different renditions of the song have entered the Hot Country Songs charts. The first was by Charlie Rich, which went to number 22 in 1976. [18] A second, by Mickey Newbury, peaked at number 82 in 1980. [19] An all-star version of "America the Beautiful" performed by country singers Trace Adkins, Sherrié Austin, Billy Dean, Vince Gill, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Toby Keith, Brenda Lee, Lonestar, Lyle Lovett, Lila McCann, Lorrie Morgan, Jamie O'Neal, The Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye, Kenny Rogers, Keith Urban and Phil Vassar reached number 58 in July 2001. The song re-entered the chart following the September 11 attacks. [20]

Popularity of the song increased greatly following the September 11 attacks; at some sporting events it was sung in addition to the traditional singing of the national anthem. During the first taping of the Late Show with David Letterman following the attacks, CBS newsman Dan Rather cried briefly as he quoted the fourth verse. [21]

For Super Bowl XLVIII, The Coca-Cola Company aired a multilingual version of the song, sung in several different languages. The commercial received some criticism on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and from some conservatives, such as Glenn Beck. [22] [23] [24] Despite the controversies, Coca-Cola later reused the Super Bowl ad during Super Bowl LI, the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2016 Summer Olympics and for patriotic holidays. [25] [26]

Jennifer Lopez performed the song at President Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20, 2021 as the second half of a medley with "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie. [27]


"From sea to shining sea", originally used in the charters of some of the English Colonies in North America, is an American idiom meaning "from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean" (or vice versa). Other songs that have used this phrase include the American patriotic song "God Bless the U.S.A." and Schoolhouse Rock's "Elbow Room". The phrase and the song are also the namesake of the Shining Sea Bikeway, a bike path in Bates's hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts. The phrase is similar to the Latin phrase " A Mari Usque Ad Mare " ("From sea to sea"), which is the official motto of Canada. [28]

"Purple mountain majesties" refers to the shade of the Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which inspired Bates to write the poem. [29]

In 2003, Tori Amos appropriated the phrase "for amber waves of grain" to create a personification for her song "Amber Waves". Amos imagines Amber Waves as an exotic dancer, like the character of the same name portrayed by Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights .


Lynn Sherr's 2001 book America the Beautiful discusses the origins of the song and the backgrounds of its authors in depth. The book points out that the poem has the same meter as that of "Auld Lang Syne"; the songs can be sung interchangeably. Additionally, Sherr discusses the evolution of the lyrics, for instance, changes to the original third verse written by Bates. [15]

Melinda M. Ponder, in her 2017 biography Katharine Lee Bates: From Sea to Shining Sea, [8] draws heavily on Bates's diaries and letters to trace the history of the poem and its place in American culture.

See also


  1. Ray Charles' 1972 recording of this song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2005.

Related Research Articles

The Star-Spangled Banner National anthem of the United States

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics come from the "Defence of Fort M'Henry", a poem written on September 14, 1814, by 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory.

"God Bless America" is an American patriotic song written by Irving Berlin during World War I in 1918 and revised by him in the run up to World War II in 1938. The later version was notably recorded by Kate Smith, becoming her signature song.

Battle Hymn of the Republic American patriotic song written by Julia Ward Howe

The "Battle Hymn of the Republic", also known as "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" outside of the United States, is a popular American patriotic song by the abolitionist writer Julia Ward Howe.

Katharine Lee Bates 19/20th-century American poet, author, and professor; writer of "America the Beautiful"

Katharine Lee Bates was an American professor and author, chiefly remembered for her anthem "America the Beautiful", but also for her many books and articles on social reform, on which she was a noted speaker.

Samuel A. Ward American organist and composer

Samuel Augustus Ward was an American organist and composer. Born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of a shoemaker, he studied under several teachers in New York and became an organist at Grace Episcopal Church in his home town in 1880. He married Virginia Ward in 1871, with whom he had four daughters.

Lift Every Voice and Sing American song

"Lift Every Voice and Sing" – often referred to as the Black national anthem in the United States – is a hymn written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in 1900 and set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954), for the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1900.

The Cola Wars refer to the long-time rivalry between soft drink producers The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, who have engaged in mutually-targeted marketing campaigns for the direct competition between each company's product lines, especially their flagship colas, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Beginning in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the competition escalated, which gave this cultural phenomenon its current moniker of Cola Wars.

Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean

"Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" is an American patriotic song which was popular in the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Composed c. 1843, it was long used as an unofficial national anthem of the United States, in competition with other songs. Under the title "Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue," the song is mentioned in Chapter IX of MacKinlay Kantor's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Andersonville (1955). It was also featured in the 1957 musical The Music Man. In 1969, "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" was the music performed by a U.S. Navy Band embarked aboard USS Hornet as one of the ship's helicopters recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts from their capsule named Columbia after a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Common metre or common measure—abbreviated as C. M. or CM—is a poetic metre consisting of four lines that alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The metre is denoted by the syllable count of each line, i.e., 86.86, or 86 86, depending on style, or by its shorthand abbreviation "CM".

The Star Spangled Banner (Whitney Houston recording) 1991 single by Whitney Houston

"The Star Spangled Banner" is a charity single recorded by American singer Whitney Houston to raise funds for soldiers and families of those involved in the Persian Gulf War. Written by Francis Scott Key, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States. The musical arrangement for Houston's rendition was by conductor John Clayton. The recording was produced by music coordinator Rickey Minor, along with Houston herself. The recording was included in the 2014 CD/DVD release, Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances and the US edition of the 2000 release, Whitney: The Greatest Hits.

<i>American Spirit</i> (album) 2003 studio album by C. W. McCall and Mannheim Steamroller

American Spirit is an album released on American Gramaphone in 2003 as a collaboration between Mannheim Steamroller and country musician C. W. McCall. The album focuses on American patriotic songs, hence the title. McCall contributed to a number of spoken word songs on the album and rerecorded his 1976 hit song "Convoy" for it; this was also the case with another song of his, "Wolf Creek Pass," which can be found on the album.

In the course of the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem of the United States, a variety of people have either sung or performed the anthem using a variety of instruments and methods. Some of these methods include using only one instrument, such as a guitar or trumpet. Other methods have included singing the anthem using different vocal ranges or even changing some of the words to show support for a home team or for an event. However, veterans groups have spoken out on occasion about these recordings, mainly calling them disrespectful to the country and to the anthem.

American patriotic music Music reflecting the history and culture of the United States

American patriotic music is a part of the culture and history of the United States since its founding in the 18th century and has served to encourage feelings of honor for the country's forefathers and for national unity. These songs include hymns, military themes, national songs, and music from stage and screen, as well as songs adapted from poems. Much of American patriotic music owes its origins to six main wars—the American Revolution, the American Indian Wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican–American War, the American Civil War, and the Spanish–American War. During the period prior to American independence, much of America's patriotic music was aligned with the political ambitions of the British in the new land and so several songs are tied with the country's British origin.

The Beautiful Game is a nickname for association football popular within media and advertising. It was popularised by the Brazilian professional footballer Pelé. Although the exact origin of the phrase is disputed, football commentator Stuart Hall used it as far back as 1958. Hall admired Peter Doherty when he went to see Manchester City play at Maine Road and used the term "The Beautiful Game" to describe Doherty's style when playing.

Pepsi Zero Sugar Cola soft drink

Pepsi Zero Sugar, is a zero-calorie, sugar-free, ginseng-infused cola sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame K, marketed by PepsiCo. In Fall 2016, PepsiCo renamed the drink Pepsi Zero Sugar from Pepsi Max. A new logo was introduced in 2020. It has nearly twice the caffeine of Pepsi's other cola beverages. Pepsi Zero Sugar contains 69 milligrams of caffeine per 355ml, versus 36 milligrams in Diet Pepsi.

Disney's Celebrate America is a seasonal fireworks show that premiered on July 3, 2008 at the Magic Kingdom theme park in the Walt Disney World outside Orlando, Florida, on July 4 of that same year at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and on July 1, 2011 at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California. The 15-minute show, produced by Walt Disney Creative Entertainment under creative director Steve Davison, celebrates the traditions, spirit and music of the United States of America, and is shown in lieu of the regular fireworks shows on both July 3 and 4 at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, and Disney California Adventure. While these parks use the same soundtrack, the fireworks used are different, due to Anaheim's fireworks laws being more strict. This is the first time in history that Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Disney California Adventure share similar fireworks shows.

Music of the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, music played a prominent role on both sides of the conflict, Union and Confederate. On the battlefield, different instruments including bugles, drums, and fifes were played to issue marching orders or sometimes simply to boost the morale of one's fellow soldiers. Singing was also employed not only as a recreational activity but as a release from the inevitable tensions that come with fighting in a war. In camp, music was a diversion away from the bloodshed, helping the soldiers deal with homesickness and boredom. Soldiers of both sides often engaged in recreation with musical instruments, and when the opposing armies were near each other, sometimes the bands from both sides of the conflict played against each other on the night before a battle.

Madison Rising

Madison Rising is an American patriotic post-grunge and hard rock band. Formed in 2011 by Richard Mgrdechian, it is led by Air Force veteran MSGT Rio Hiett (Ret). The band is named for the street in Hoboken, New Jersey where their recording studio was located, but the band later considered it to also be in reference to former president James Madison.

<i>America</i> (George Adams album) 1990 studio album by George Adams

America is an album by saxophonist George Adams which was recorded in 1989 and released on the Blue Note label the following year.


  1. "'America the Beautiful' began in Newark | Di Ionno". March 17, 2016. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
  2. Andy Pease, "'America the Beautiful' by Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel Augustus Ward, arr. Carmen Dragon" Archived February 22, 2018, at the Wayback Machine , Wind Band Literature, July 1, 2014; accessed 2019-08-17.
  3. McKim, LindaJo (1993). The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press. p. 379. ISBN   9780664251802 . Retrieved June 22, 2012. (McKim notes that Ward once mentioned in a postcard that the hymn had been composed in 1882, however).
  4. "Materna (O Mother Dear, Jerusalem) / Samuel Augustus Ward [hymnal]:Print Material Full Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress". October 30, 2007. Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  5. Cooney, Beth (November 9, 2001). "A Stirring Story Behind 'America the Beautiful'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN   0458-3035. Archived from the original on January 25, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  6. "No. 1238: 1893 Exhibition". Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  7. "America the Beautiful". The Library of Congress. Archived from the original on July 5, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  8. 1 2 Ponder, Melinda M. (2017). Katharine Lee Bates: From Sea to Shining Sea. Chicago, IL: Windy City Publishers. ISBN   9781941478479.
  9. Baxter, Sylvester (October 31, 1918). "America the Beautiful". The Journal of Education. 88 (16 (2202)): 428–429. doi:10.1177/002205741808801607. JSTOR   42767143. S2CID   220810886.
  10. 1 2 Ace Collins (August 30, 2009). Stories Behind the Hymns That Inspire America: Songs That Unite Our Nation. Zondervan. ISBN   978-0-310-86685-5. Archived from the original on May 8, 2018.
  11. Collins, Ace (2003). Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. Harper. p. 19. ISBN   978-0-06-051304-7.
  12. "America the Beautiful". Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  13. Estrella, Espie (September 2, 2018). "Who Wrote "America the Beautiful"? The History of America's Unofficial National Anthem". ThoughtCo. Retrieved November 14, 2018. Many consider "America the Beautiful" to be the unofficial national anthem of the United States. In fact, it was one of the songs being considered as a U.S. national anthem before "Star Spangled Banner" was officially chosen. The song is often played during formal ceremonies or at the opening of important events...Many artists have recorded their own renditions of this patriotic song, including Elvis Presley and Mariah Carey. In September 1972, Ray Charles appeared on The Dick Cavett Show singing his version of "America the Beautiful."
  14. Bates, Katherine Lee (1897). "America. A Poem for July 4". The American Kitchen Magazine. 7: 151. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  15. 1 2 Sherr, Lynn (2001). America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song. New York: PublicAffairs. p. 78. ISBN   978-1-58648-085-1 . Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  16. Bates, Katharine Lee (1911). America the Beautiful and Other Poems. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, pp. 3–4.
  17. "Ray Charles Chart History: R&B/Hip-Hop Songs". Billboard . Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  18. Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 350. ISBN   978-0-89820-177-2.
  19. Whitburn, p. 297
  20. Whitburn, p. 24
  21. Zacharek, Stephanie (September 18, 2001). "Dan Rather's tears; Journalists don't cry on camera. That was before last week". Archived from the original on May 22, 2009.
  22. "Coca Cola's Super Bowl ad angers conservatives". NY Daily News. Archived from the original on May 16, 2016. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
  23. "Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad: Can you believe this reaction?". USA TODAY. Archived from the original on April 23, 2016. Retrieved May 6, 2016.
  24. Poniewozik, James (February 2, 2014). "Coca-Cola's "It's Beautiful" Super Bowl Ad Brings Out Some Ugly Americans". Time. Archived from the original on December 17, 2014.
  25. "It's Beautiful" Commercial Archived November 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine by the Coca-Cola Company Press Center. February 5, 2017
  26. "Coca-Cola ran a Super Bowl commercial about diversity and inclusion and people are mad". SB Nation. February 5, 2017. Archived from the original on February 6, 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  28. Martin, Gary. "From sea to shining sea". Archived from the original on July 18, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  29. Archived September 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine