Happy July 4th!
The year was 1918 and the war to end all wars, World War I was raging in France. Irving Berlin was a private in the U.S. Army stationed at Camp Upton, Long Island, New York. Yes, the famous composer Irving Berlin was drafted into service as an infantryman and commissioned to write the songs for an all solider musical production. A show designed to boost morale and support the war effort in Europe. Irving set about his task writing the numerous songs that would comprise the musical production, but would soon find his self in a bit of a predicament when it came to the closing number. His plan was to have the soldiers march out of the theater, presumably as off to war, during the closing number. His first composition seemed trite and pretentious and when completed was filed way because it didn’t fit the show. His second closing number was titled We’re on Our Way to France and Irving thought it was better suited for the closing of the show.
The story might end here except for the fact that I have given you the little known footnote to this story and the first closing song that Irving Berlin wrote for that all solder show in 1918. Twenty years later, while struggling to write a song for the Armistice Day radio broadcast of November 10, 1938, Berlin would go back to his file of unproduced songs and bring this particular song to life. He presented it the female vocalist from Greenville, Virginia that was scheduled to perform on the broadcast. She liked the song, which Irving really wasn’t sure was good enough, but it was a finished tune, and time was of the essence.
As they say the rest is history, because the rendition of this unknown song from Irving’s discarded songs file by vocalist Kate Smith would become so popular that it would be the song she would be indentified with for the remainder of her career. Yes, that little known, almost discarded song was one that would rival the National Anthem in popularity: God Bless America.
Over the years Irving Berlin would recall the story many times of the song that was almost lost in the forgotten file, stating that with a few changes he made a song of war, a song of peace and prayer. On this the celebration of our nation’s Independence I think it is fitting to offer a song of prayer and peace. “God Bless America” Happy 4th of July!