Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs

Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs

by Ace Collins
     
 

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Throughout our nation's history, patriotic songs have lifted our spirits during hard times and brought us closer to our heritage and to each other. Behind these "songs sung red, white, and blue" are unforgettable stories that will enrich your appreciation of their unique power.

It's hard to imagine a single American who hasn't been touched deeply at one time

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Overview

Throughout our nation's history, patriotic songs have lifted our spirits during hard times and brought us closer to our heritage and to each other. Behind these "songs sung red, white, and blue" are unforgettable stories that will enrich your appreciation of their unique power.

It's hard to imagine a single American who hasn't been touched deeply at one time or another by the songs in these pages. From the soaring chorus of "God Bless America" to the quiet poetry of "America the Beautiful," historian Ace Collins takes you inside the creation of thirty-two classic songs spanning two centuries. Military anthems like "The Marine's Hymn" and "Anchors Aweigh" share pages with other songs of war, such as the War of 1812's "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Civil War's "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Popular tunes dating back to the earliest days of our nation, such as "Yankee Doodle," are included alongside contemporary hits like "God Bless the U.S.A." Other favorites like "This Land Is Your Land" and "This Is My Country" reflect on our nation in times of peace.

You'll meet a surprising and diverse cast of behind-the-scenes characters, which includes both everyday Americans -- teachers, preachers, and soldiers -- as well as celebrated songwriters like Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan. Here are songs that are as close to our hearts as any ever written -- songs that form a rousing soundtrack to America's story.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this entertaining little book, historian Collins assembles information about 35 patriotic songs, including favorites such as "God Bless America" and "Yankee Doodle," along with marches ("Stars and Stripes Forever"), U.S. Armed Services music, and some that might be considered marginally related (e.g., "The Yellow Rose of Texas"). For each, he presents the background of the composers and lyricists, if known, sets the time period and historical context, and provides a biographical sketch of the performers who recorded or popularized the song. Unfortunately, texts are given for only about a third of the songs; the book would have benefited from providing these and sheet music for all the songs for which permission could be obtained. On the whole, the information appears reliable, although the lack of references and some personal biases and unfortunate word choices detract. Collins's work complements, with some overlap, the patriotic sections of William Studwell's The National and Religious Song Reader, in which the treatment of each song is much less detailed. Recommended especially for public libraries and Americana collections.-Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061977169
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/06/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
681,275
File size:
650 KB

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Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue
The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs

Chapter One

Abraham, Martin and John

If there was one event that seemed to signify just how tragic the Civil War had been, it was when the president was killed at Ford's Theatre. This action plunged a nation into deep despair and widened the gap between the victor and the loser. This death struck such a deep chord that in the months after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, more than fifty songs were penned trying to capture the incredible sadness that had enveloped the war-scarred country. Yet while scores of these compositions were played in concert halls, churches, and theaters and around the fireplaces of common people, none managed to paint the graphic pain of the moment well enough to become a well-known American folk song or anthem.

It is doubtful that Dick Holler had ever heard any of the songs written about Lincoln's life and death. Yet in the wake of the assassination of another president, John F. Kennedy, Holler, like millions of other Americans, must have relived the details of the tragic deaths of both Lincoln and Kennedy. The parallels seemed uncanny, but in truth the deaths were most closely related by the fact that two men who seemed to have been the moral voices of the moment, men who were strongly loved and deeply hated for firing up incredible passions in their followers, had been struck down in what should have been the greatest moments of their lives.

Holler was not a historian, though he had a love of history. The man's claim to fame would come from writing about an American hero, though thestar of his song was a hero of the fictional variety. In 1966, the rock group the Royal Guardsmen took Holler's "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" to the top of the charts. This novelty number, inspired by Charles Schulz's classic comic-strip beagle, was equally enjoyed by old and young alike. If possible, it made Snoopy an even larger star than his bigheaded owner, Charlie Brown. Even as America laughed at his work and Holler deposited royalty checks from record sales, the man and the nation were still troubled by a host of problems plaguing the country -- problems that a humorous song simply could not erase.

Much as Lincoln's death had scarred the United States for more than two decades, when Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK, the wound festered in every facet of American society for years. Kennedy's loss left millions questioning every aspect of their lives, right down to the core of their beliefs. The death of the young president was even cited as a factor in the heated debates over integration and civil rights, the rapidly growing division between those who argued over the reasons for American involvement in Vietnam, and the accelerated experimentation with illegal drugs. Americans could not escape the bleakness of the times. The nightly news became a nightmare of disappointment and violence. just when many felt that things could get no worse, another death brought the shocked nation to its knees again.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was at the very least a controversial leader. As the man who jump-started the American civil rights movement, King was also a dynamic speaker whose ideas stirred up deep devotion, as well as deeply rooted fear. While millions of African Americans lined up to support his peaceful marches and demonstrations, the whites who clung to segregation saw him as the most dangerous man in the country. On a bright evening in Memphis, Tennessee, not long after making one of the most famous speeches of his life, King was gunned down on his hotel's balcony. It was April 4, 1968. King's death divided the nation much more deeply than had his life. In many parts of the country, violence erupted, and some areas began to take on the look of a war zone.

Like his older brother, the recently slain president, Robert Kennedy felt a calling to lead his nation. When Lyndon Johnson opted not to run for reelection in 1968, the younger Kennedy stepped in to try to win the role as the leader of the Democrats. When he won the California primary on June 4, 1968, he seemed well on his way to his party's nomination. After a rousing victory speech, he started to leave his hotel headquarters through the kitchen. Amid dirty dishes and late-night workers, the unthinkable happened when another assassin ended the life of the man millions called Bobby. A nation that had once felt so secure now shook and asked, "Who's next?"

In the wake of King's and the younger Kennedy's deaths, Americans began to wonder if every facet of a society that just a decade before had seemed so stable was now falling completely apart. Dick Holler was one of those who were horrified. The songwriter sensed the national mood and saw a bridge that linked the deaths of three recent leaders to Lincoln's. That bridge was the mass of grief and questions that accompanied each death and the fact that the murders were fueled by each of the men's strong and courageous ideas and stands. With these thoughts fresh in his mind, Holler created a song that was uniquely American. It defied description -- if the subject had not been so serious, this song might have been considered a novelty number. It wasn't a protest song, it wasn't an anthem, it wasn't a flag-waving ballad or a gospel standard, yet it contained elements of each of these styles. In just four verses and a chorus, it became much more than just another folk-pop standard.

What Holler's "Abraham, Martin and John" accomplished was to voice the pain and anguish of millions and ask the questions that haunted people all over the world. The song did not give answers, but rather pointed out that the ones who might have had those answers had been needlessly killed ...

Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue
The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs
. Copyright © by Ace Collins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Ace Collins is the award-winning author of Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Turn Your Radio On, Lassie: A Dog's Life, and many other nonfiction books. He has appeared on CBS This Morning, NBC Nightly News, CNN, the Today Show, Good Morning America, and Entertainment Tonight. He lives in Texas.

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