Interview: Lee Greenwood Turns ‘God Bless the USA’ Into New Children’s Book
Lee Greenwood has turned his award-winning 1984 song, "God Bless the USA," into a children's book. Proud to Be an American, which is out now, is the singer's way of instilling patriotism in the youngest generation of Americans.
Larry Carpenter and Paul Shepherd of Christian Book Services and Shepherd Publishing Services, respectively, approached Greenwood with the idea for the book a couple of years ago. Greenwood says that the two men told him, "It’s time to instill the next generation of children with a book [from which] they can learn about geography and patriotism, which we do not have currently."
"They said, 'We don’t know of a patriotic book for children that’s an illustrated book, that’s not a history book,'" Greenwood recalls to The Boot. "This is separate, this is different, this is unique, because no one could do this but me. It just kind of all folded together, and the timing became right."
In addition to using the lyrics to "God Bless the USA," Proud to Be An American draws inspiration from Greenwood's own childhood. The illustrations, done by Amanda Sekulow, show a child being raised by grandparents, not parents, because that is how Greenwood was raised.
"It’s the lyrics of my song, the geography from New York to LA to Detroit, and great American pictures," Greenwood explains. "The reason I didn’t put the parents raising the child is because I was raised by my grandparents, so there’s a grandfather and a grandmother in the book, showing a young boy all the things you should love about America."
Greenwood hopes that the book inspires the same lessons he learned while growing up in California.
"My grandfather gave me all the lessons of Americana," he says. "A handshake is your word. You kill the predators if they’re bad for you. You save something else. And all those lessons that came from grandparents, which, they’re invaluable.
"You’ll see pictures, you’ll see a diagram, you’ll see a flag occasionally," Greenwood adds. "It has Arlington [National Cemetery] and a Congressional Medal of Honor soldier in a parade. Other than that, there’s not a lot of focus on the military. It’s just a couple or three expressions of beauty."
Greenwood wrote "God Bless the USA" in 1983, while riding in his bus somewhere between Arkansas and Texas, not aware of the impact that the song would have on his career and American history.
"I wrote basically the whole chorus and verse of the song," Greenwood recalls. "When I came to naming the cities, I said, 'I have to name these cities right. We have to take pins on our map and place them where they’re most important.'"
The result was one of the most stirring songs of all time -- and a tune that became especially meaningful after the devastating terror attacks on 9/11.
"When Sept. 11 hit, I was in Los Angeles. I couldn’t move because they grounded the planes," Greenwood recounts. "... I said to my manager at the time, ‘Why don’t we call New York and find out what they need me to do for them?’ [Then-New York City Mayor] Rudy Guiliani said they were putting together a fireman’s memorial and a police memorial."
And so, Greenwood went to perform "God Bless the USA" in New York, kicking off two years of non-stop touring.
"It was one thing to play my recording, but people wanted to see me live," the 72-year-old states. "They wanted to see my heart. They wanted to see if I actually represented the cross section of America that I wrote about. So for two years, I sang non-stop across the country, everywhere I could possibly sing. And now, it’s history for the kids who see it."
Greenwood's patriotism continues to run deep. In addition to his busy music career, Greenwood also donates much of his time to Helping a Hero, a non-profit that helps provide severely wounded veterans with homes adapted to their physical needs. While he acknowledges that he initially thought he didn't have time to volunteer for the organization, Greenwood was quickly drawn in by their activism and compassion.
"It’s just something I thought, ‘This is something I really like,'" he says. "I didn’t intend on being the ambassador or the spokesperson, but it kind of drew me in."
Proud to Be an American, which includes a brand-new version of "God Bless the USA," is available for purchase on Greenwood's website.