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Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

Editorial: 'America the Beautiful'

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Katharine Lee Bates wrote many volumes of poetry and books but only one song. That song, "America the Beautiful," earned her a place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

She wrote the poem that became the song while teaching English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1893. She and some other teachers were on an outing at Pikes Peak. They rode part of the way up on a wagon but had to ride mules to the 14,000-foot top. "I was very tired," she recalled. "But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sealike expanse."

The poem she wrote was set to Samuel Ward's hymn "Materna." It has served America well as a patriotic alternative to "The Star-Spangled Banner." It is a traditional part of many Fourth of July celebrations.

When the late Ray Charles sang the song, people wept. As he recounted America's blessings and its flaws, his love shone through. If you listen closely, you can hear Ray sing:

"Oh 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.

Oh beautiful, for pilgrims' 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!

Oh 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,

'Til all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine!

Oh 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!"


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