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Song of the Day for July 22: "America the Beautiful," with words by poet Katharine Lee Bates in 1893

James Bo Insogna

“America the Beautiful” wasn’t always a song. Poet and professor Katharine Lee Bates wrote the poem on July 22, 1893, after a trip up Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Bates taught English at Wellesley College and loved to travel. She visited the world. Her home was filled with souvenirs from Syria, Palestine, China, Italy, Egypt and Panama.

But her most important travels came in the United States. Bates took a train across the country in 1893 to lecture during the summer session at Colorado College. While there, she made the trek to the top of the 14,115-foot nearby Pikes Peak. The view from the mountain top and the other wonders she saw, such as Niagara Falls, on the train trip from Boston to Colorado, inspired her to write the poem. The poem was published two years later on July 4.

America fell in love with it. Songwriters gravitated to it. By 1900, there were 75 melodies turning the poem into song. Samuel Ward’s version won out. He came up with it while riding the ferry back to New York from Coney Island. Ward’s music and Bates’ poem were published together as “America the Beautiful” in 1910.

Some people have unsuccessfully pushed to make it the national anthem rather than the “Star Spangled Banner,” arguing it’s easier to sing and it doesn’t have the war-like imagery.

Fridays are when we enjoy a new weekly series that's part history, part trivia, and ALL music. The series features selections from former News-Press editor Sheldon Zoldan's '"Song of the Day." The initiative began as a daily lockdown project on Facebook at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, through which Zoldan highlights how every aspect of life has a connection through music.