From the Program Creator
On July 4, 2018, I was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes while listening to NPR. A segment came on the air introducing a new series called “American Anthem.” The series promised to explore songs that had become anthems because they captured the essence of a community unified by a common cause or feeling.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives three definitions of the word anthem:
• A song or hymn of praise or gladness
• A usually rousing popular song that typifies or is identified with a particular subculture, movement, or point of view
• A psalm or hymn sung antiphonally or responsively
I kept an eye (ear?) on each episode as it was released. I was interested to see how the series would define the anatomy of an anthem and how the program would shape the story around each song. After eight weeks I had heard enough. Enough, that is, to know that I was extremely excited about the prospect of presenting a Chicago a cappella program based on this series. The music was diverse in age and genre. Each song had a purpose, a meaning, a powerful message, and a following of groupies who connected with the song in a deeply personal way.
By the time the final program for the Chicago a cappella concert was due, only about 65% of the episodes had been released. With a throw of the dice I decided to include a few songs I felt captured the essence of the theme but which had not (yet) appeared in the NPR series. Luck would have it that by the time these notes went to print all but four of my choices had become a part of NPR’s “American Anthem” series. Those four songs are indicated with an asterisk in the program.
I would like to extend a giant thank-you to the NPR team behind the “American Anthem” series: Ellen Silva, Ted Robbins, Daoud Tyler-Ameen, and Elizabeth Blair. Without their wonderful contributions we wouldn’t be singing this great repertoire for you today! There are many additional songs and incredible stories featured in the series which we couldn’t bring you tonight. I encourage you to take a listen. All of the episodes may be found at NPR.org/Anthem.
Thank you for joining us!
—Kathryn Kamp, program creator
NOTES ON THE MUSIC by Kathryn Kamp
An * indicates that the song is not part of the NPR series.
America the Beautiful
Samuel A. Ward and Katherine Lee Bates, arr. David Angerman and Joseph M. Martin
Katharine Lee Bates’ poem “America” was published on July 4th, 1895 and includes references to sites she visited while travelling from Wellesley College to Colorado Springs in 1893. The wheat fields of Kansas, views of the Great Plains from Pike’s Peak, and the gleaming alabaster cities of Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition were all sights on her trip mentioned in the poem. By 1900 her words had been set to more than 75 melodies, but it wasn’t until 1910 that her text was set to Samuel Ward’s 1882 tune "Materna.” The works together became the song “America the Beautiful.”
Many consider this song to be more beautiful, more singable, and to possess a more positive message than “The Star-Spangled Banner.” However, hundreds of efforts to give this song official legal recognition as a national hymn or as a national anthem equal in status to (or in replacement of) “The Star-Spangled Banner” have failed.
John Ness Beck, arr. Douglas Wagner
Walter Kittredge was born in 1834 in what is now Merrimack, NH. At the age of 21 he joined the Hutchinson Family Singers, a popular group of entertainers who toured New England singing native folk tunes and patriotic anthems in four-part harmony. Many of their songs promoted workers’ rights, women’s rights, abolition and temperance.
In 1863 Kittredge received his draft notice to serve in the Civil War and was inspired to write “Tenting Tonight” the evening before reporting for duty. He never served in the war as he was deemed unfit for service due to a childhood bout with rheumatic fever. His song — with its strong anti-war sentiment — was sung by Union and Confederate soldiers alike. Over 10,000 copies of sheet music were sold within the first three months of publication in 1864, a tremendous success at the time. “Tenting Tonight” may be among our nation’s earliest protest songs.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Trad. Appalachian, arr. J. David Moore
The text and melody for this Christian hymn was written in 1907 by Ada Habershon and Charles Gabriel. In 1935 The Carter Family reworked the lyrics to more closely draw a connection between family, music, and the living and the dead. This is the version that has been performed and recorded by musicians across endless musical styles, crossing regional and racial boundaries, and connecting generations of musicians with those who came before. From gospel sings and worship services to the annual Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony and bluegrass picking parties, this song is a staple in the American roots repertoire.
Dvořák /William Arms Fisher, arr. Paul Langford
Antonín Dvořák composed his New World Symphony (Symphony No. 9 in E minor) in 1893 while serving as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He was hired to help composers find an “American” sound instead of continuing to write music which sounded more European. Dvořák told the New York Herald: "The future of this country must be founded upon what are called the Negro melodies. This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States."
The “Largo” movement of the New World Symphony was inspired by what Dvořák heard in the black spirituals sung to him by Harry Burleigh, the African American baritone he had chosen to be his assistant. After Dvořák’s death William Arms Fisher (a white student of Dvořák) added words to the Largo melody, thus creating the song “Goin’ Home.” Often mistaken as an African American spiritual, this hymn is frequently sung at funerals, including those of presidents Gerald Ford and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Duke Ellington, arr. J. Hoybye
Duke Ellington wrote the instrumental jazz suite Black, Brown and Beige for his Carnegie Hall premiere in 1943. Each of the three sections represents a period in black history. The lives of the slaves are represented in the “Black” section; Emancipation and service in American wars is the “Brown” section; and “Beige” is Ellington’s take on 1940’s black America.
“Come Sunday” is the second part of the “Black” section. In 1958 Ellington added text and recorded it with Mahalia Jackson on vocals — an uncommon collaboration at that time as jazz (secular music) was not considered appropriate for church. This recording set the stage for the decade following which exploded with music that more directly addressed political and racial issues in America, including “We Shall Overcome” and “Change is Gonna Come.” “Come Sunday” is published in the United Methodist Hymnal.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
J. Rosamond Johnson, arr. Roberto Burton
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. His brother John Rosamond Johnson set it to music in 1905 and the song became a rallying cry for black communities, particularly those in the South. In 1919 it was named the first official song of the NAACP. In addition to being included in nearly 30 Christian hymnals, it is often heard at schools, in churches, and at graduation ceremonies. It is one of the most cherished songs of the Civil Rights Movement and is often referred to as the Black National Anthem.
I Am Woman
Helen Reddy, arr. Paul Langford
In 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment passed the Senate, Shirley Chisholm became the first woman and first African American to seek the nomination for U.S. President for one of the two major political parties, and “I Am Woman” reached #1 on the pop charts. This anthem of women’s solidarity and female pride resonates as strongly with the current generation of women as it did when it was first released.
Written by Connie Lim and Adrianne Gonzales; music by MILCK
Connie Lim (who performs as MILCK) co-wrote “Quiet” in 2015 as a “personal therapy song,” a reaction to having been sexually assaulted and abused when she was a teenager. In the days before the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, Lim taught 26 women the song and together they performed it at the March. The song quickly become an anthem for victims of sexual abuse and harassment around the world.
Medley: Give My Regards to Broadway; Johnny Get Your Gun; Over There; You’re A Grand Old Flag
George M. Cohan, arr. Patrick Sinozich
George M. Cohan—the father of American musical comedy—was a playwright, composer, actor, singer, lyricist, dancer, and producer. While most segments in the NPR series focus on the influence of specific songs, Cohan is recognized for his entire collection of works which includes over 50 musical theater comedies. According to the series, “...he is remarkable not because he wrote one anthemic song, but because—with more than 300 tunes and a lot of flag-waving in those shows—he was what you might call an ‘anthem machine’.” Many thanks to our very own “medley machine,” Patrick Sinozich, for his salute to the man who is the subject of the only public statue of a theater performer in all of Manhattan.
David Bowie, arr. Patrick Sinozich
Another songwriter whose entire catalog might have been honored in this series is David Bowie. When he died in January 2016, NPR noted that “Bowie’s songs were anthems for generations of fans who felt alienated or different.” In addition to being a singer-songwriter and actor, Bowie studied art, music, dance, and design. He used all of these skills throughout the various phases of his chameleon-like career. At the time these program notes were written David Bowie had not yet been featured on the American Anthem series, but I believe his work is worthy of this distinction.
Paul Simon, arr. Paul Langford
When the creators of the American Anthem series asked listeners to submit their personal anthems, one popular choice was Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.” Listeners noted several different reasons they connect with this song, including understanding the restless feelings that lead to the need to wander and search. They associated with the adventure of a road trip and with being in the geographic locations mentioned in the song. Listener Eugene Lisansky’s comments especially struck me: “I don't know whether we ever did find it or whether this was just a quixotic quest. But I think all of us are still searching for America and hoping to find it and define it and give it meaning. And we all do that in our own way.”
*Take Me Home, Country Roads
Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert, John Denver; arr. Stefan Wyatt
“New York, New York,” “California Love,” and “Sweet Caroline” (for you Boston fans) were all featured on the NPR series as examples of regional anthems. I’ve taken a little artistic license to include my favorite regional anthem although it wasn’t mentioned in the series. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was co-written by Bill Danoff and his then-wife Taffy Nivert. They intended to sell the song to Johnny Cash, but before doing so they sang the song for John Denver who recalled, “I flipped.” The three worked together to add a bridge and revise some of the lyrics, and in 1971 Denver released his recording of the tune. It reached #2 on the Billboard charts in August of that year, and in 2014 it became one of four official state anthems of West Virginia.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Bob Dylan, arr. Ann Downey, Shelley Posen, Ian Robb
John F. Kennedy was assassinated less than a month after Bob Dylan recorded “The Times They are a-Changin’.” The night following the assassination Dylan opened his concert with this song. He told biographer Anthony Scaduto, "I thought, 'Wow, how can I open with that song? I'll get rocks thrown at me.' But I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there. I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding the song. And I couldn't understand why they were clapping, or why I wrote the song. I couldn't understand anything. For me, it was just insane.”
Jennifer Hudson sang a gospel version of the tune at the 2018 March For Our Lives. Her rendition is quite different from Dylan’s original which is heavily inspired by Irish and Scottish ballads. While the arrangements approach the tune from very different angles the message remains the same: Keep looking forward with hope that change is always possible.
For What It’s Worth
Stephen Stills, arr. Patrick Sinozich
Although this tune is often thought to have been written as a Vietnam War protest song, it was inspired by events which transpired during the transformation of LA’s Sunset Strip in November of 1966. The area was once a boulevard crowded with teenagers hanging out at dumpy music clubs and diners. When upscale restaurants and storefronts began to move in, the owners worked together to pass a 10pm curfew for anyone under 18. Teens leading protests against the curfew were met by law enforcement wearing helmets and wielding billy clubs. The incident led to teen protesters being beaten, kicked, and arrested, and became known as the Sunset Strip Riots. Steven Stills — whose band Buffalo Springfield played on the Strip — was disturbed by the violence, and it is rumored that he wrote the song in 15 minutes.
Chet Powers, arr. Paul Langford
This “hippie national anthem” was written by Chester Powers in the mid-1960’s and has been recorded by The Kingston Trio, The Carpenters, and The Staples Singers among others. The Youngblood’s 1967 recording sealed this song’s standing in the anthem category. Peace, brotherhood, and the notion that we may choose to lead with either love or fear are messages which resonate as strongly today as they did 50 years ago.
*The Man in Black
John R. Cash, arr. Joe Labozetta
Johnny Cash’s 1971 “The Man in Black” is his statement of protest against the Vietnam War, mass incarceration, the neglect of the hungry and aged, and the mistreatment of poor people by politicians. Cash, an advocate of prison reform, explains in this song that he wears black “just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back.” Joe Labozetta’s arrangement includes a clever nod to the Southern gospel tradition which influenced Cash’s sound and music.
Let It Go
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, arr. Roger Emerson
Queen Elsa of Disney’s Frozen was born with — and constantly fought to hide — an uncontrollable power which led her to shoot ice and snow from her fingertips. After her secret is revealed, Elsa abandons her kingdom and flees to the mountains in a cloud of shame. While secluded, she realizes she no longer needs to hide her power. Her sense of empowerment builds as she creates a beautiful wonderland while belting out “Let It Go.” Elsa then realizes that in granting herself freedom and permission to explore her magical power she ends up with complete control over the very thing she felt she had no control over and was trying desperately to hide.
For many people with disabilities the song “Let It Go” holds a special place. The theme of self-acceptance rings loudly, and this song has become an anthem for people who take pride in who they are, the way they are, without apology or feeling the need to please others.
Born This Way
Lady Gaga and Jeppe Laursen, arr. Patrick Sinozich
After the 2011 release of “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga told Howard Stern that one of her main inspirations for this piece was Carl Bean’s 1977 Motown rendition of “I Was Born This Way.” Elton John declared “Born This Way” the “new gay anthem” as others accused Lady Gaga of borrowing heavily from Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” The song has become an unofficial anthem for the LGBTQ community. The lyrics encourage the listener to accept oneself without apology, to own what makes them unique, and to love oneself and others.