American patriotic music has been with us since before the revolution, much of it then written as lyrics to known British melodies. For example, The Liberty Song, written in 1768 by patriot John Dickinson (1732 - 1808), member of the Continental Congress 1774-76 & '79, and signatory to the U. S. Constitution, was set to the music of William Boyce, a well known British composer.
You can listen to this spirited march, and read Dickinson's lyrics, on this wonderful Folk Music history website.
Edward Taylor Paull (1858 - 1924) was a prolific writer of patriotic marches. His first hit was The Chariot Race or Ben Hur March, published in 1894. He started his own publishing company to accommodate the music that was pouring out of him. One of his most popular works was the America Forever March. In 1924, his final composition was Spirit Of The U.S.A., copyrighted only six weeks before he died.
Throughout history, much of our patriotic music was written to stiffen our spines and see us through the horrors of wars without losing hope for our country. As we moved toward the 20th Century, we were blessed with the works of a superb musician and prolific composer, John Phillip Sousa (1854 - 1932), whose output was more than 130 compositions, most of them marches so timeless they are still favored by today's orchestras and marching bands. I bet I'm not the only one who gets goose bumps when they play Stars and Stripes Forever, Liberty Bell March or, as a former Marine, my particular favorite: Semper Fidelis.
There came along an entertainer so special that his music inspired us through two world wars. George Michael Cohan (1878 - 1942) was way more than the sought-after triple threat (actor/singer/dancer), He was also a playwright, a composer, and a lyricist, credited with creating the first musicals that used songs and dances to further the plot, not interrupt it. George had so much energy left over that he also became a producer. He and his partner, Sam Harris, were for 20 years Broadway's busiest producing team.
George had his first big hit on Broadway in 1904 with his show, Little Johnny Jones, which introduced his songs "The Yankee Doodle Boy" and "Give My Regards to Broadway." He published more than 1500 original songs over his long career — none of them more affecting than "You're A Grand Old Flag," and none more needed than "Over There" as America entered WW1.
In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented George with the Congressional Gold Medal (not to be confused with the military Medal of Honor) for his contributions to WW1 morale, in particular his songs "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There." The latter, as I recall, was also sung a lot during WW2.
When Georgie was ten, and still criss-crossing the country with The Four Cohans, a little baby was born in Russia who was destined to become one of the most prolific American songwriters. Irving Berlin (1888 - 1989) wrote more than 1,000 songs in his 101-year life — so much good music, that it has spilled over into succeeding generations — youngsters thinking it's new, while we oldsters just smile, belt out the lyrics, and watch their little jaws drop. (Don't you just love when that happens?)
Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America" in 1918, although it may not have been published then, as it doesn't seem to occur in any production until he wrote and produced This Is The Army during WW2. But it was the song's powerful rendition by singing star Kate Smith that turned "God Bless America" into our country's second national anthem. She sang it every week on her radio show, and record sales of her rendition were enormous. In 1941, she also recorded a touching British wartime song, "The White Cliffs of Dover," which became a big hit in the U.S.
Irving Berlin was deeply patriotic. Throughout WW2 he wrote patriotic songs such as "Any Bonds Today?" and donated all proceeds to the war effort. He donated the proceeds from the film This Is The Army to the U. S. Army, and entertained the troops far and wide with a road company of that show, in which he was a cast member. At war's end, he was recognized for his important contribution to troop morale, and was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Harry S. Truman.
One of these days I'll revisit some of these patriots, for they have provided us with some wonderful theater over the years. But right now, on the occasion of America's 234th birthday, I wish to thank them for the gifts of their music. Their love for this nation is our good fortune.