The Fourth of July conjures up images of American flags and fireworks, summer picnics and lemonade. Along with those images are the sounds associated with the holiday. The day is not complete without patriotic music from the local high school marching band, the community concert in the park, or the Boston Pops on television.
Chances are that all of those performances will include some music by one or more of three American composers who have contributed to our American songbook: George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, and John Philip Sousa.
George M. Cohan (1878-1942):
Born on July 3, but his love of America was such that he told everyone his birthday was the Fourth of July. He began writing songs and performing in his parents’ vaudeville act practically as soon as he could walk. His songwriting skills and enthusiasm for Broadway led to the development of the musical comedy form. He is so linked to the history of the Broadway musical that a statue of him stands proudly in the center of Times Square. Many of his songs and musical shows had American themes. His most popular patriotic songs include You’re AGrand Old Flag, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the World War I anthem Over There.
Irving Berlin (1888-1989):
A Russian immigrant, but it could be said that he bled red, white, and blue. His music reflected the country’s good and bad times throughout most of the 20th century. Americans trotted off to two world wars humming his melodies and his inventive shows performed for and starring servicemen led to the development of the USO, an entertainment branch of the Armed Services. His heartfelt tribute to his adopted country – God Bless America – is one of the most well-known and beloved American songs. It has often been said that many Americans believe that it should replace the Star Spangled Banner as our National Anthem. After seeing the popularity of the song, Irving Berlin established the God Bless America Fund, giving all the royalties to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. First sung by Kate Smith on her radio program in 1938, God Bless America has continued to reassure us even in the most perilous times, as evident from its renewed popularity after September 11, 2001.
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932):
Was known as “The March King”, but none of his marches are more famous than The Stars and Stripes Forever. In 1987, Congress proclaimed this piece the National March, and you will rarely hear a Fourth of July concert that does not program it as the finale. Like all Sousa marches, it sets the feet tapping and the flags waving as Americans from all 50 states recognize its trilling piccolos and soaring brasses.So on the Fourth of July, celebrate the USA by waving your flag to the music of some of our greatest patriotic American composers.