August 10th, 2011, 3:47 pm · Post a Comment · posted by Brian
My friend Cal Zethmayr of WAAZ/WJSB radio sent around an interesting e-mail forward this morning about how Kate Smith came to record “God Bless America.” It included a link to an early performance of the song, purported to be the first time she performed Irving Berlin’s rousing patriotic classic. But Cal’s forward also brought back a vivid memory of the day I played “God Bless America” for an audience at the outdoor swim lanes back home in Highland Lakes, N.J.
I got into trouble, sort of, when I inadvertently played “God Bless America” instead of “The Star Spangled Banner” before a swim meet one lovely summer’s day in 1975. I was responsible for playing the warm-up music and the national anthem to start each meet, but I had forgotten to rewind the cassette with the “Star Spangled Banner” on it from the previous meet. I had made the tape myself, and it had a collection of patriotic and national music on it.
To time the start of the anthem, I had to listen at the door of the clubhouse to hear Mrs. Silvey, the meet announcer, begin asking everyone to “please stand for the playing of our national anthem.” I’d dash inside to where the tape deck was plugged into the outdoor sound system, count to 10, then punch “play.” I’d then run back out onto the deck to make sure it was playing OK.
Imagine my horror that day when I heard Kate Smith singing instead of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s version of the “Star Spangled Banner”! Afterward my mother chastised me. “That is NOT our national anthem!” she exclaimed. But what was amazing was the number of people singing along, something that hadn’t happened with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Even Mrs. Silvey thanked me, noting, “I like that song much better, but I wish you’d warned me you were going to play that instead.”
Later several parents approached me and said how much they enjoyed my selection and thanked me for playing something they could sing along with. “God bless America” indeed. And God bless Kate Smith and Irving Berlin, a Jewish Russian immigrant who enthusiastically embraced his new country so much that he would compose in 1917 one of our most beloved national songs. What could be more all-American?