Top of page

Happy Fourth!

Share this post:

On this Independence Day, I thought it would be nice to review some of the patriotic tunes we have in the NLS Music collection. In previous posts I’ve discussed the music of George M. Cohan and John Philip Sousa. We also have some posts about the Ohio State School for the Blind’s marching band by Mary Dell Jenkins, and a post about Irving Berlin, who wrote “God Bless America.” Additionally, the Library of Congress’ Music Division shares some of their Independence Day materials in this blog from yesterday.

This blog post, however, will look at the history of three of the most iconic patriotic songs in the United States: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “America the Beautiful.”

Let’s start with the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The words to this anthem were written by poet and Maryland native Francis Scott Key after witnessing British ships attack Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. Ironically, the tune is actually taken from a popular British song (“To Anacreon in Heaven”) by British composer John Stafford Smith. Although Key’s poem was set to this tune unofficially for over a century, it wasn’t until 1931 that the United States officially adopted this version as its official anthem.

Here are some versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the collection:

The Star-Spangled Banner (BRM23527), arranged for voice and piano by Joseph Hoffman.

Old Song Favorites, Part 2 (BRM13158), arranged for voice and piano. Also contains: “America,” “Battle Cry of Freedom,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and many other tunes.

The Star-Spangled Banner (DBM03840) taught and arranged by Bill Brown for guitar by ear

Books about Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner:
The Flag, The Poet, and The Song: The Story of the Star-Spangled Banner (DB 53453) by Irvin Molotsky. Also available in braille at BR 13894 (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2).

Another famous patriotic tune is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Abolitionist Julia Ward Howe (whose husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, founded the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts) set words she wrote to a tune that was developed from Southern camp meetings (sometimes referred to as “Canaan’s Happy Shore”). This tune was also used for the song “John Brown’s Body,” which has the same repeated chorus of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!” The verses were penned by Julia Ward Howe as she was staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC in November of 1861 and were later published on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.

Battle Hymn of the Republic (BRM04588), arranged for SSATB choir and piano.
Battle Hymn of the Republic (BRM04896), arranged for SATB choir and piano

Battle Hymn of the Republic (DBM03488), taught and arranged by Bill Brown for piano by ear.

Books about Julia Ward Howe
The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe (DB 85111) by Elaine Showalter

Print shows a large gathering of people picnicking, playing games, and enjoying the Independence Day celebration outdoors among large trees and open lawn, with a distant view of a railroad train passing and of ships on a waterway in the background.
“The Day We Celebrate” 1876. Engraving by John C. McRae, 1875.

The last song I’m going to look at is “America the Beautiful.” These lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates and the music was composed by church organist Samuel A. Ward in the late 19th century. Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College had written the words to “America the Beautiful” after being inspired on a trip out to Colorado, where her train traveled through the plains and up to Pikes Peak. There has been an argument by some to have “America the Beautiful” attain status as a national hymn or anthem, equal to or supplanting the “Star-Spangled Banner.” This discussion is still continuing today.

America the Beautiful (BRM29263) by Samuel Ward arranged for organ by Lee Erwin
America the Beautiful (BRM23465) for voice and piano

America the Beautiful (DBM03485) by Bill Brown for piano by ear

Intro to the Guitar for the Visually Impaired (DBM02984) by Bill Brown. Contains many songs, including “America the Beautiful”

Books about Katharine Lee Bates and “America the Beautiful”
America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story behind Our Nation’s Favorite Song (DB 55652) by Lynn Sherr

Here are some more general books of and about patriotic songs:

Patriotic Songs (BRM03346) for voice. Also contains: “America,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Yankee Doodle,” “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” and more.
Four Patriotic Songs (BRM04693) for choir. Contains “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
American Patrol March (BRM33273) by F.W. Meacham, arranged for piano duet.

Star Spangled Harmony (DBM01015) by Mike Whorf. This book takes a look at United States history in music. Tunes featured include: Yankee Doodle,” “What a Country,” and “America the Beautiful.”
Hymns of Fire (DBM00877) by Mike Whorf. This book looks at the background of patriotic melodies that have stirred nations.
The Sound of Patriotism (DBM00112) by Mike Whorf. This book contains speeches and songs of 1916-1917 as America entered World War I.
Flag Day by Mike Whorf (DBM00922). This book contains music and commentary about the red, white, and blue
Patriotic Medley (DBM02675), taught and arranged by Bill Brown for guitar by ear.

Large Print
Happy Birthday America (LPM00415) for voice with melody and chord symbols.

So while you’re enjoying parades, grilling, and fireworks, why not learn some patriotic songs to go along with the festivities. Happy Fourth!


  1. If you had included 4 patriotic songs in your blog, I suppose God Bless America would have been included. NLS must still have the voice plus piano score which I brailled decades ago.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.