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Most people know "My Country 'tis of Thee." It's one of the first songs children learn in American schools. Plus, it's easy to sing and filled with liberty and pilgrims, the song provides a popular little exercise in patriotism.
But did you know that the song owes its melody to the British national anthem, "God Save the Queen"? The British anthem predates the American song by almost a century. What's up with that?
Was American lyricist Samuel Francis Smith some sort of English wannabe? In copying the British anthem, was he merely suggesting that the United States and Great Britain were related? Or was he up to something more mean spirited? Was he trying to rub a little salt in British wounds by claiming the anthem just as Americans had claimed their freedom?
Or is there some other explanation for the rather unpatriotic origins of one of America's most popular patriotic songs? You better come up with some answers, Mr. Smith.
|Artist||Smith, Samuel Francis|
|Writer(s)||Samuel Francis Smith (words), Music—Traditional (taken from Great Britain's "God Save the Queen/King")|
|Learn to play||Sheet Music|
While "My Country 'tis of Thee" predates the modern method of charting a song's popularity by a good century, there's no doubt that is has been an American favorite for over 150 years. In fact, the song was deemed the nation's unofficial national anthem until "The Star-Spangled Banner" was made America's official national anthem in 1931.
"God Bless America"
Robert Branham and Stephen Hartnett, Sweet Freedom's Song: "My Country 'tis of Thee" and Democracy in America (2002)
Branham and Hartnett trace the song from its colonial roots through its multiple reformulations as an anthem for reformers and revolutionaries. The song's adoption by 19th-century reformers receives the most interesting treatment.
Michael Broyles, Yankee Musician in Europe: The 1837 Journals of Lowell Mason (2010)
In 1837, American music educator Lowell Mason toured Europe and recorded his ideas about music in this journal. These ideas shaped his efforts to improve American music and save it from the "vulgar" influences of frontier revivals and untrained composers.
Carol Pemberton, Lowell Mason: His Life and Work (1985)
Samuel Francis Smith wrote "My Country 'tis of Thee" after music educator Lowell Mason asked him to translate some German songs. Mason's larger efforts to elevate American music are explored in this biography.
Samuel Francis Smith
He wrote the words for "My Country 'tis of Thee" in 1832.
The Father of American Music Education
That'd be Lowell Mason.
Civil War Song Sheet
The song was a popular Northern anthem during the Civil War.
Awake My Soul (2006)
Shape-note singing and the Sacred Harp are the subjects of this terrific documentary. The origins of the American art form and its survival within rural communities and among folk-music enthusiasts are explored in this fascinating film.
Library of Congress on “My Country ‘tis of Thee”
The Library of Congress constructed a useful page on the patriotic song. A brief history is supported by images and documents.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame has a small site dedicated to Samuel Francis Smith. It includes a brief biography and some useful links.
"My Country 'tis of Thee," Crosby & Nash
Crosy, Stills, & Nash also performed the song shortly after 9/11.
"My Country 'tis of Thee," The Robert Shaw Chorale
From the album Battle Cry of Freedom.
"My Country 'tis of Thee," Aretha Franklin
The Queen of Soul sang the song at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration in 2009.