An American Medley is a sort of time capsule; the selections span United States history from revolutionary days to the first part of the 20th century. The medley begins with Yankee Doodle, originally a British march with lyrics that taunted the Colonies but was later taken on (with some pointed lyric changes) by the Americans. The defiance and ironic humor in doing so left us with a jaunty tune that almost defines American nature as a whole. Next we jump to 1904, when songwriter George M. Cohan premiered the song (I'm a) Yankee Doodle Dandy (aka The Yankee Doodle Boy) in his Broadway show Little Johnny Jones. Cohan's show, patriotic bordering on the jingoistic, was about an American jockey who rides the horse named Yankee Doodle at the British Derby.
The last song, America the Beautiful, has long been proposed as an alternative to The Star-Spangled Banner as a national anthem. (Irving Berlin's God Bless America is another candidate.) The gorgeous melody by Samuel A. Ward (another church musician) perfectly fits the lyrics by Katherine Lee Bates. Yet music and lyrics were written separately in the late 1800s and not put together until 1910. This steadfast defiance continues in the patriotic hymn Chester, composed by church musician William Billings and first published in 1770. The first few lines are clear in intent: "Let tyrants shake their iron rod, and Slavery clank her galling chains; we fear them not." The music is stirring, even when heard without the lyrics.
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