Published: July 1, 2016
NEW YORK CITY — Now through July 10 and in honor of the Independence Day holiday, the Morgan Library & Museum is exhibiting an inscribed first edition of Berlin’s famous song, “God Bless America,” which was published in 1939.
Berlin’s song has been called the nation’s unofficial anthem. It resonates for its expression of emotion and love for a nation that promotes peace and affords opportunity. Berlin’s own life story is nothing short of an American Dream. Born into a Jewish family in Siberia, he came to the United States at the age of five. His father – a cantor in a synagogue in Siberia – moved the family to America in 1893, as did thousands of other Jewish families that fled Russia during the brutal pogroms. The Yiddish-speaking family lived in a small apartment on the Lower East Side of New York on a modest income. Despite humble beginnings, Berlin reached great status before the age of 30. His hit songs include “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
“God Bless America” was originally composed by Berlin in 1918 as part of a musical revue from which it was cut. Years later, with the rise of Hitler, the composer revisited “God Bless America.” He had the song introduced by Kate Smith as a ballad of peace on an Armistice Day broadcast in 1938. Smith, a popular radio star, became indelibly associated with the patriotic song. Both Berlin’s and Smith’s royalties were donated to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.
The Morgan display features the first published edition of “God Bless America,” inscribed by Berlin to James Fuld, whose collection of first-edition scores came to the Morgan in 2008. Visitors to the Morgan can view this work while listening to the patriotic tune: the Morgan’s audio guide, free with museum admission, features Smith’s recording of “God Bless America,” which was arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle.
The Morgan Library & Museum is at 225 Madison Avenue. For information, www.themorgan.org or 212-685-0008.
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