The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Celebrate “America the Beautiful”

What is it that you find most beautiful about your country? For those living in the United States of America, the beauty of nature in one of the most diverse geographical areas of the world is awe-inspiring. From the warm, wet Florida Everglades in the deep south to the lush green rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. From the purple mountains of the Rockies to the amber waves of grain on the Great Plains. From the magnificent red-rock desert canyons of the southwest to the tall, lush forests of the northeast. Within the boundaries of this country, we can find the beauty of the earth in all its majesty. We know that our friends in other countries around the world will have similar feelings about the beauty of their own countries.

In this month when Americans celebrate the birth of their country, The Tabernacle Choir invites you to watch and sing along with Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “America the Beautiful.” As you do, reflect on the things that you find most beautiful about this country and the people who have given so much to protect and preserve it. If we focus on the things that unite us and the beauty we find in our world, we can all work together to focus on the song’s ultimate promise: 

And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

It was an 1893 lecture trip from the east coast of the United States and the inspiring trek to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado that inspired poet and English college professor Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) to write a poem about her appreciation and gratitude for this nation’s beauty and abundance. The view on Pikes Peak overwhelmed Bates and she later wrote: “All the wonder of America seemed displayed there.” 

Two years after Bates’ trip up Pikes Peak, her poem "America" was first published on the Fourth of July in 1895. She revised it in 1904, adding the lines, "And crown thy good with brotherhood / From sea to shining sea.” The modern "America the Beautiful" was born when it was later set to the familiar tune “Materna” composed by Samuel A. Ward (1848-1903), an Episcopal church organist and choir master.

In 1918, when the armistice ending World War I took effect on November 11, "From sea to shining sea" took on a more global meaning. It was reported that soldiers from the six New England states, known as the Yankee Division, stood in stunned silence near the French city of Verdun as the artillery ceased at 11 a.m. Soon after, those Americans walked out of their trenches, some in tears, and began singing "America the Beautiful.” Bates realized that she had written a song that allowed these homesick soldiers to remember their beloved country through its music as they contemplated their return again to its beautiful shores.  

To enjoy more beautiful American scenery and patriotic music, watch this Music & the Spoken Word “National Park Special” celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the National Park System created in 1916.

“America the Beautiful”

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Oh, beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

Oh, beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine.

Oh, beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Text: Katherine Lee Bates, 1859–1929
Music: Samuel A. Ward, 1848-1903