This week Pete Seeger, (now 89!) joined by his grandson, Tao Rodriguez Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, sang Woody Guthrie's anthem, "This Land Is Your Land" at the We Are One concert in Washington, D.C., a pre-presidential inaugural celebration.
Some claim that Guthrie's lyrics were written as a love song to America. It's a song that has been covered by many including Peter, Paul and Mary, and The Weavers. American school children all learn it. Even without Pete's cues, the crowd probably knew most of the words by heart, except for maybe 2 less-known more politically-oriented verses, which were not taught in my schooldays or sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. Nor do they appear in the lyrics in The Weavers Songbook. I did learn from a friend, who recently spent a year in the United States, that her children were taught the 2 verses I'm referring to here. The first of these refers to the commonly seen "No Trespassing!" signs posted on private lands and the second, to the lines of hungry people outside the relief offices. That verse ends with a question, "Is this land made for you and me?"
This song, over the years, has become a true American folksong. It's a song sung and loved by the American people. It celebrates their country and lives.
The lyrics of the official United States of America's national anthem are taken from a poem by Francis Scott Key, "Defense of Fort McHenry". This poem, written in 1814, describes a battle scene from the War of 1812. It was set to the melody of a British drinking song by John Stafford Smith and became, "The Star Spangled Banner".
The song is, at the least, "challenging" to sing with a huge range of one and a half octaves, not to mention the pompous militaristic lyrics. In the first grades we were taught and sang, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" whose melody was taken from the British national anthem. Only in the upper grades of elementary school did we learn and sing, "The Star Spangled Banner". Americans today sing (and most probably know) only the first of four verses of their national anthem.
We also learned and sang the first verse of, "America the Beautiful" which was sung at the inaugural ceremony by Beyonce. Katharine Lee Bates wrote the lyrics which were later revised and set to a hymn tune by Samuel A. Ward. The song is much easier to sing than the national anthem and a favorite of many Americans.
"Hail, Columbia!" by Philip Phile was also used as a national anthem in the 18th and early 19th centuries. He composed the song for George Washington's inauguration.
Looking back and at the present I would vote for "This Land Is Your Land" as America's "first song". The joyous singing audience at the We Are One concert, I think, proves my point!
In my last "stanza" here, let me just suggest teaching this song to your classes. Bring a map and have an English language geography lesson at the same time. Practice grammar and sing in Past Progressive Tense, which stars in the song, along with Past Simple. Ask your pupils to copy their favorite verse and then draw it. Hang up their work in your English corner! Try your hand at songwriting, and write Israeli lyrics for the chorus. Yes you can!
Note the links below for song lyrics: