Story Behind the Song: Lee Greenwood, ‘God Bless the USA’
As far as patriotic songs go, “God Bless the USA” is right up there with the best and most well-known of them all. As Lee Greenwood tells The Boot, he’d wanted to write such a song for quite some time — and he finally did in the early 1980s.
When “God Bless the USA” was released as a single for the first time, in 1984, it went to No. 7 on the country charts. That same year, the song was played at the Republican National Convention with then-president Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan in attendance — and as the years have gone on, the tune has become a rallying cry during various times of crisis in America: after the launch of Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War in 1991, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and more.
Below, Greenwood tells The Boot about his reasons for writing the enduring hit.
I wanted to write it my whole life. When I got to that point, we were doing 300 days a year on the road, and we were on our fourth or fifth album on MCA. I called my producer, and I said, “I have a need to do this.” I’ve always wanted to write a song about America, and I said, “We just need to be more united.”
I’m from California, and I don’t know anybody from Virginia or New York, so when I wrote it — and my producer and I had talked about it — [we] talked about the four cities I wanted to mention, the four corners of the United States. It could have been Seattle or Miami, but we chose New York and LA, and he suggested Detroit and Houston because they both were economically part of the basis of our economy — Motown and the oil industry — so I just poetically wrote that in the bridge.
When I put it onstage … I think it was the fall of ’83, I put it in the middle of the show, just as a brand-new song. Wow, it was like the audience jumped up, and they were applauding … I did it for about two weeks like that, and then I had to put it at the end of the show as an encore; I couldn’t follow it.
It keeps having a different kind of life. I mean, during the Gulf War, it was a song of the war for [U.S. Army] Gen. [Norman] Schwarzkopf. After Hurricane Katrina, it was a song for life and hope, and then after 9/11, it was a song of unity and rebuilding. It just makes me really proud that I’ve done something for the country and for my family. It’s my family’s heritage.
I recorded the American Patriot album [in 1992] — that album was a way to embrace “God Bless the USA” with all other American songs, including “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” the National Anthem … even the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The American Patriot album really was the one that solidified “God Bless the USA” in a time capsule, if you will, for all time.
This story was originally written by Pat Gallagher, and revised by Angela Stefano.
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