|America's unofficial national anthem was composed by an|
|immigrant who left his home in Siberia for America when he|
was only five years old. The original version of "God Bless
America" was written by Irving Berlin (1888-1989) during the
summer of 1918 at Camp Upton, located in Yaphank, Long Island,
for his Ziegfeld-style revue, Yip, Yip, Yaphank. "Make her
victorious on land and foam, God Bless America..." ran the
original lyric. However, Berlin decided that the solemn tone of
"God Bless America" was somewhat out of keeping with the
more comedic elements of the show and the song was laid aside.
In the fall of 1938, as war was again threatening Europe, Berlin
decided to write a "peace" song. He recalled his "God Bless
America" from twenty years earlier and made some alterations
to reflect the different state of the world. Singer Kate Smith
introduced the revised "God Bless America" during her radio
broadcast on Armistice Day, 1938. The song was an immediate
sensation; the sheet music was in great demand. Berlin soon
established the God Bless America Fund, dedicating the
royalties to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.
Berlin's file of manuscripts and lyric sheets for this
quintessentially American song includes manuscripts in the
hand of Berlin's longtime musical secretary, Helmy Kresa
(Berlin himself did not read and write music), as well as lyric
sheets, and corrected proof copies for the sheet music.
These materials document not only the speed with which Berlin
revised this song, but also his attention to detail. The first proof
copy is dated October 31, 1938; the earliest "final" version of the
song is a manuscript dated November 2; and Kate Smith's
historic broadcast took place on November 11. These documents
show the song's step-by-step evolution from the original version
of 1918 to the tune we now know.
These manuscripts are part of the Irving Berlin Collection, a
remarkable collection that includes Berlin's personal papers as
well as the records of the Irving Berlin Music Corp. It was
presented to the Library of Congress in 1992, by Berlin's
daughters, Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Louise Emmet, and
Elizabeth Irving Peters.