The lyrics of "America the Beautiful" were written in 1895 by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College. The original poem was entitled "Pike's Peak", and first published in the 4th of July edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist. Samuel A. Ward's melody was originally named "Materna" for the hymn "O Mother dear, Jerusalem" in 1882. The idea for the tune came to Ward on a ferryboat trip from Coney Island back to his home in New York City. Ward's music combined with the Bates poem was first published in 1910 as "America the Beautiful".
During the Kennedy administration and periodically ever since there have been efforts to give "America the Beautiful" legal status as a national hymn or as the national anthem to replace "The Star-Spangled Banner". Proponents of the movement promote it because it is easier to sing, more melodic and less war-oriented.
In 1967 on the occasion of the Southwest Division of the Music Educators National Conference this arrangement was first performed in the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs, only a few miles form Pike's Peak where Katharine Lee Bates wrote the first lines of her famous poem.
An Anthem for Easter
Supply Belcher (1751-1836) was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts and at one time may have sung in the Stoughton Music Society under William Billings. A muster roll of the Minute Men shows that Private Belcher and Corporal Billings marched on April 19, 1775, upon receiving the alarm from Lexinton of an impending engagement with the British. After the Revolutionary War, Belcher moved to Farmington, Maine and served as town clerk, selectman, teacher, part-time physician, singer and composer. He was Farmington's first representative to the legislature at a time when the District of Maine was still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Belcher composed some 68 compositions, most of which appeared in The Harmony of Maine, published in 1794 (the same year as the founding of Bowdoin College). The "Easter Anthem" concludes with the text "Hallelujah, Amen" and earned Belcher the hyperbolic soubriquet "The Handel of Maine".
Three Shaker Songs
The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers, was founded in the 18th century in England. They were originally known as "Shaking Quakers" because of their ecstatic behavior during worship services. As early as 1747 women assumed leadership of the sect. Shakers settled in New Lebanon, NY (called Mount Lebanon after 1861). They practiced a celibate and communal lifestyle, pacifism, and their own model of equality of the sexes, which they institutionalized in their society in the 1780's. They are also known for their simple living, architecture and furniture.
During the mid-19th century, an "Era of Manifestations" resulted in a period of dances, gift drawings and gift songs inspired by spiritual revelations. At that time there were 6000 Shaker believers. By 1920 there were only 12 Shaker communities remaining in the U.S. Presently there is only one active Shaker Village, Sabbaday Lake in New Gloucester, ME. Their celibacy, combined with external and internal societal changes resulted in attrition, and consequently many of the other Shaker settlements are now village museums.
Peace was originally titled "Peace from Zion". It was written in Enfield, NH around 1851. Love is Little originated in South Union, KY in 1834. Lay Me Low was written by Addah Z. Potter in New Lebanon, NY around 1836.
William Billings (1746 - 1800) is commonly regarded as America's first native composer. A tanner by trade, he was s self-taught composer who devoted a great deal of time to teaching singing at schools-- mostly in the Boston area. Billings was a friend of such historical figures as Samuel Adams and Paul Revere (who engraved some of Billings's music) and was an ardent supporter of the American Revolution. His New England Psalm Singer (1770) was the first collection of American choral music to be published as the work of a single composer. The name "Kittery" refers to the town on the border between ME and NH. The music is a setting of the first few lines of the Lord's Prayer. At the time it was common to name hymns for towns. There is no known connection between the Town of Kittery and this anthem but it may be assumed that the hymn was sung there.
How Can I Keep from Singing?
Edward Tyler's arrangement of this Baptist hymn moves each phrase from one voice part to another. The hymn is often known by its incipit "My Life Flows On in Endless Song". It was written by Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry. It has been incorrectly cited as a Quaker or Shaker hymn, undoubtedly because it was later adopted by the Quakers and frequently sung in their meetinghouses.
In the late 1970's How Can I Keep from Singing was recorded by the Catholic Folk musician Ed Gutfreund on the album "From an Indirect Love". The music was published in a widely-used Catholic hymnal called "Glory and Praise", and it was popular among Catholic liturgical music ministers, especially those who used guitar.
In his radio-singing debut actor Martin Sheen performed this sone on A Prairie Home Companion in 2007.