America the Beautiful

“America the Beautiful” was inspired by the view from the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. In the summer of 1893, poet Katharine Lee Bates was teaching English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Later she remembered:

One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.

On the pinnacle of the mountain, a poem started to come to her. She wrote down the words after returning to her hotel room. The poem was first published with the name “Pikes Peak” in the Independence Day edition of the church periodical “The Congregationalist” in 1895. Over the years, several existing pieces of music were adapted to the poem. A hymn tune composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward in 1882 was first published with Bates’ poem in 1910 as “America the Beautiful.”

Visit Ballad of America for the lyrics.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

This musical hope for peace originated during the Civil War and has demonstrated lasting appeal, growing in popularity over the years. Soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict sang it, identifying with the feeling of joy they thought would come with the end of the fighting and the return of loved ones to their homes.

The first printed sheet music for the song credits the words and music to Louis Lambert, which was determined later to be a pen name for Patrick S. Gilmore. Born in Ireland, Gilmore came to America in the 1840s along with many others who fled the famine of those years. He was a gifted musician, becoming Bandmaster for the United States Army during the Civil War and, in post-war years, the organizer of Monster Peace-Jublilees featuring orchestras of a thousand musicians and choruses of 10,000 voices.

Gilmore claimed to have learned the tune for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” from an unidentified African-American singer and that it was a traditional African-American melody. The song’s Irish sound, and Gilmore’s background, lead many to discredit this claim, but no definitive evidence of the tune’s origin has been discovered. It is possible that he adapted the melody from a traditional Irish folk song.

Visit Ballad of America for the lyrics.