2014 is the 200th anniversary of "The Star Spangled Banner," the official national anthem of the United States. It is not, however, the only song used to evoke love of country. "America the Beautiful," "My Country 'Tis of Thee," and "Stars and Stripes Forever" are also often played or sung at public ceremonies. Most anthems are really old, but there are two songs from the 20th century in their class, "God Bless America" written by Irving Berlin and "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie. Author John Shaw explains the evolution of the two songs in This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems.
While these two newer songs differ much in tone, and their authors held very different political positions, Shaw shows that they have over time converged in many ways. "God Bless America" began as a strident war march, and "This Land is Your Land" began as a labor rights anthem. There was little love in either. Verses were added and dropped, and performers also reinterpreted the songs in ways unplanned by the composers. As their composers softened and added more spiritual lyrics for their songs, they became more like we know them today.
Setting is very important in this story. The author spends much time on the lives of the composers and political and economic history of the country during the periods in which the composers lived. Shaw also tells abbreviated stories of other American anthems that have risen and fallen in popularity. Readers who enjoy dual biographies or micro-histories may enjoy This Land That I Love.
Shaw, John. This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems. Public Affairs, 2013. 274p. ISBN 9781610392235.
Audiobook. Audio Go, 2013. 6 compact discs. ISBN 8671482931853.