This is a story I first heard Glen Beck tell on his radio show, and it’s a fun story to add to your arsenal of great American trivia!
The song “God Bless America” was first heard by Americans in 1938, but it was actually written 20 years before. It was written after WWI.
It was written by Irving Berlin, a young Jewish man from Siberia. He immigrated to America and he LOVED this country. He had written this song for a play called Yip Yip Yaphank. He felt the song was inspired and came from God, but because of that he decided maybe it wasn’t appropriate for the play. So he put the song into a drawer and there it sat for 20 years, until Kate Smith came along.
Kate Smith, a famous singer, walked into Irving Berlin’s home and said the anniversary of Armistice Day, which was the end of WWI, was coming up. And they all sensed that WWII was right around the corner. Nobody understood that better than Irving Berlin.
Kate said, “Irving, I need a song. She said, ‘I need a song. I need a song. WWI is over and that was the war that was supposed to end all wars and now, Irving, you feel it and I feel it. War is coming again and great evil is gathering on the shores of Europe.”
“I need a song and I want to sing it for the anniversary of Armistice Day, but I want something that will convince Americans that America is going to be OK. It doesn’t matter if war is coming. It doesn’t matter if Hitler is coming.”
Irving said, “Kate, I really don’t have anything like that.” She said, “Come on, Irving.”
He thought back and he said “You know – I wrote a song about 20 years ago. I don’t know. I don’t feel comfortable with it.” She said, “Why not?” He said “It’s not right. I don’t have it down yet.” And he said, ‘the lyrics are more of a prayer than anything else.” And he said, “As I wrote it, I just – Kate, I don’t think it’s right.”
He went into the drawer and he dug it out. It was at the bottom of everything. He dug it out and she looked at it. She could sight read, so she read the lyrics and hummed it to herself. She said, “This is perfect!” He looked at her and said, “It’s boastful. It assumes that America is blessed and that God continues to bless it.”
Kate Smith looked at Irving Berlin and said, “Irving, it is, He does, and I’m singing it.”
He reluctantly gave it to her but with an understanding. He said, “Kate, I can’t take money for this song.”
She said, “Irving, but who’s going to get the rights because I’m telling you right now this is going to be a huge hit. Everybody in this country is going to want a copy of this song. Who do you want the money to go to?”
He said, “it was inspired by God. I can’t take money for it.” He said, “You know what? I know who I’ll give the money to. If this thing does sell, I know who to give the money to.”
Well, Kate Smith sang it. It didn’t just sell. Within a week it was sold out in copies all across the country. People were going into music stores and buying up all the sheet music. They were buying anything they could get for “God Bless America.” It has sold and sold and sold and sold.
So who got the money? Well, next time you hear this song, it will be enhancing the resources of the BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA.