The Arty Semite

A 'God Bless America' Timeline

By Eileen Reynolds

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From its creation in 1918 to its unofficial adoption as anthem for the fallen of 9/11, “God Bless America” has had quite a history. Here are some of the highlights.

August 19, 1918 Cut from the finale of “Yip, Yip, Yaphank,” which opened at New York’s Century Theatre.

November 10, 1938 Radio premiere, on “The Kate Smith Hour.”

February 1939 Sheet music published amid a battle between Berlin and Smith over performance rights to the song.

June 1940 God Bless America Fund established by Berlin to distribute the song’s royalties to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

January–October 1941 Banned from the airwaves, along with all songs licensed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, of which Berlin was a founding member. (Broadcasters believe that royalties paid to ASCAP composers were too high.)

February 5, 1941 Performed by Eleanor Roosevelt and 1,200 striking Leviton Manufacturing Co. workers at a union rally in Brooklyn.

1943 Film debut, in “This Is the Army,” in a scene featuring Ronald Reagan playing Johnny Jones and Kate Smith playing herself.

May-June 1963 Performed by Young African-American students at school segregation protests in Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La.

March 16, 1974 Sung and played on the piano by Richard Nixon at the opening of the new Grand Ole Opry House, in Nashville, Tenn.

January 22, 1982 Sung by anti-abortion marchers at “Right to Life Day” in Buffalo, N.Y.

June 17, 1986 Kate Smith died. The New York Times ran a correction a few days after publishing an initial obituary that claimed Smith had “introduced a new song written expressly for her by Irving Berlin.”

September 22, 1989 Irving Berlin died at 101.

1998 Served as the soundtrack to a propaganda video by the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations.

September 21, 2001 Performed by Celine Dion in “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” a TV benefit concert for 9/11 victims.

November 5, 2008 Used as Oprah Winfrey’s entrance song for her TV special the day after Obama was elected president. (She yelled “Whoooooooo!” over the music.)


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