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The Surprising History of “God Bless America”


Sperry S. and Ella Graber Packard Hall of Music and Art
5 W. Cache La Poudre St. (map)


American Music Scholar Sheryl Kaskowitz discusses her book, "God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song." The book tells the fascinating story behind America’s other national anthem, beginning with the song’s composition by Irving Berlin in 1918 and first performance by Kate Smith in 1938, revealing an early struggle for control between composer and performer, as well as the hidden economics behind the song’s royalties.

Kaskowitz shows how the early popularity of “God Bless America” reflected the anxiety of the prewar period and sparked a surprising anti-Semitic and xenophobic backlash. She follows the song’s rightward ideological trajectory from early associations with religious and ethnic tolerance to increasing uses as an anthem for the Christian Right. The book concludes with a portrait of the song’s post 9/11 function within professional baseball, illuminating the power of the song, and of communal singing itself, as a vehicle for both commemoration and coercion.

An excerpt from the book is available at

The Surprising History of “God Bless America”
  • Open to Public: Yes
  • Admission Fee: Free
  • Sponsored By: CC Music Department
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