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America the Beautiful

History | Lyrics | Katherine Lee Bates

History

The lyrics to this beautiful song were written by Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) an instructor at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, after an inspiring trip to the top of Pikes Peak, Colorado, in 1893. Her poem, America the Beautiful first appeared in print in The Congregationalist, a weekly journal, on July 4, 1895. Ms. Bates revised the lyrics in 1904 and again in 1913. In addition to those changes in the words, it is notable that the poem was not always sung to the tune presented on this website ("Materna," composed by Samuel A. Ward in 1882, nearly a decade before the poem was written). In fact, for two years after it was written it was sung to just about any popular or folk tune that would fit with the lyrics, with "Auld Lang Syne" being the most notable of those. The words were not published together with "Materna" until 1910, and even after that time, the tune to be used was challenged to some degree. For example, in 1926 the National Federation of Music Clubs held a contest to put the poem to new, reportedly "less somber," music, but no other entry was determined to be more acceptable. Before her death in 1929, Ms. Bates never indicated publicly which music she liked best, but it now appears likely that America the Beautiful will forever be associated with "Materna."

 


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