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Source: Craig Parker,
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


MANHATTAN -- For many Americans, the Fourth of July means fireworks, parades, picnics and plenty of patriotic music.

"Many factors make patriotic music appealing: memorable melodies, catchy and often repetitive rhythms, the emotional content of the lyrics, and, to a lesser extent, the occasion for which the music was written," said Kansas State University's Craig Parker, associate professor of music and an expert on John Phillip Sousa, the American patriotic music composer known as the "March King."

While most American patriotic pieces, such as "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America," have lyrics, Parker said, one of the most recognizable patriotic compositions got lyrics after achieving popularity.

"The most recognizable piece of American music around the world is John Philip Sousa's 'The Stars and Stripes Forever,' which was composed in 1896-97 as an instrumental piece. It was played by his own professional concert band that toured America and the world for 40 years," Parker said. "The lyrics for this march were added long after it became popular as an instrumental work.

"When American orchestras tour internationally, they invariably play 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' as an encore to a symphonic concert, as the National Symphony Orchestra did a few weeks ago during a tour of China," he said.

Parker said Sousa marches such as "The Washington Post," "Semper Fidelis," "The Liberty Bell" and others also have enjoyed eternal popularity and are recognized around the world as evocations of the American spirit.

Not all American patriotic music was born in the USA, though, Parker said.

"Two of America's best-known patriotic pieces, 'My Country 'Tis of Thee' and 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' use British melodies," he said. "'My Country 'Tis of Thee' is based on 'God Save the Queen,' while Francis Scott Key's poem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' written during the War of 1812, was later set to the old British drinking song, 'To Anacreon in Heaven' by John Stafford Smith."

"The Star-Spangled Banner" did not become America's official national anthem until 1931, Parker said.

"Prior to that, 'Hail, Columbia,' which is also known as 'The President's March,' 'Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean' and 'The Star Spangled Banner' all functioned as unofficial national anthems," he said. "'Hail to the Chief,' which is played to announce the arrival of the president, is another British import. James Sanderson originally wrote it for an early 19th-century London production of a play based on Sir Walter Scott's novel, 'The Lady of the Lake.'"

The American hymn tradition is responsible for some patriotic songs, Parker said, including the melodies for "Battle Hymn of the Republic" -- which Parker calls the greatest of all Civil War songs -- and "America, the Beautiful."

One patriotic song now considered a classic didn't catch on when first introduced.

"Irving Berlin's 'God Bless America' was originally written for a 1919 show and was forgotten for 20 years until he revised it in 1939," Parker said.

"God Bless America" also sparked another patriotic classic -- in protest, according to Parker.

"Folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote 'This Land Is Your Land' as a response to 'God Bless America,' which Guthrie thought was a song for the wealthy who were not suffering from the Depression as millions of other Americans were," he said.