Saturday, July 4, 1981

On This Day in Music (1831): “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” first performed

My Country ‘Tis of Thee (aka “America”)

Samuel Francis Smith (words), traditional (music)

Writer(s): Samuel Francis Smith (words), traditional (music) (see lyrics here)

First Performed: July 4, 1831

First Charted: July 8, 1893 (Jules Levy)

Peak: 13 PM (Levy) (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 10.46 video, -- streaming

Awards (Smith):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Jules Levy):

Awards (Marian Anderson):

About the Song:

The story of “patriotic song that would serve as an unofficial national anthem for nearly one-hundred years” GL has a background dating until at least 1740. That’s when a British singer-composer named Henry Carey composed the words and music for a song called “God Save Great George the King.” However, it is likely the tune was based on a pre-existing melody. LC Sources from the seventeenth century suggest it could be originally by English composer John Bull or French court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. LC It has been tied to 17th-century British composer Henry Purcell and German composer George Frideric Handel. SH It might even come from a Swiss military hymn. LC It has potentially been traced back to folk melodies from the early 1600s. SH

The song “God Save the King” gained popularity in 1745 after Dr. Thomas Arne arranged it for a performance at the Drury Lane Theater on September 28 of that year. The intent was to show support for King George II after his General John Cope was defeated in battle at Prestonpans. LC

The melody became the Danish national anthem in the 1790s – a mouthful of a title in “A Song to be Sung by the Danish Subjects at the Fete of their King, to the Melody of the English Hymn.” It would become the national anthem for at least six more countries as well, including Britain as “God Save the Queen” and Prussia as “Hail to Thee in the Victor’s Wreath.” LC

In the United States, the melody from “God Save the King” was printed in 1761 as “Whitefield’s Tune” in Urania, a collection of church music gathered by James Lyon and printed by William Bradford. LC The song was adapted to “God Save the United States” and sung at George Washington’s inauguration in April 1789. SH The song was familiar to members of the Lewis and Clark expedition from 1803 to 1806 as “God Keep America.” LC

In 1831, organist and composer Lowell Mason presented some German school music books to Samuel Francis Smith, a student at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Mason, who has been called the father of American music education, SH asked Smith to translate the German or write new lyrics for the songs. He wrote “America,” which came to be known as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” set to the melody of “God Bless Our Native Land.” GL He chose it because it sounded patriotic, but he had no idea the song used the same melody as the British anthem. SH It was performed at a children’s concert in Boston at the Park Street Church on July 4, 1831. It was then published in 1832 in Mason’s collection The Choir, or Union Collection of Church Music. TY2

The song has only charted once. Jules Levy took it to #1 in 1893. A 1939 version by Marian Anderson was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It has also been covered by George Gaskin (1899), John Philip Sousa’s Band (1905), George Alexander (1905), the Columbia Mixed Double Quartet (1916), and Louis Gravieure (1917). TY2


First posted 8/31/2023.

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