Happy Independence Day! Here at Facing South, we have a July 4th tradition of posting two thought-provoking pieces -- Patriotism's Secret History, which originally appeared in The Nation, and What to the Slave is the 4th of July?, Frederick Douglass' classic indictment of the gap between our country's ideals and reality.
This year we're going to mix it up and go multi-media. For your viewing and listening pleasure, here are five "must watch" musical performances that contemplate our nation's dreams of freedom, independence and democracy:
1 - AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
Written by ardent feminist (and likely lesbian) Katherine Lee Bates, efforts have been underway for decades to replace the nationalistic, violent and musically confusing "Star Spangled Banner" with this song, which instead calls on God to "crown they good with brotherhood." Here's Ray Charles' classic version:
2 - THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND
Considered our country's "unofficial national anthem," the tune was penned in 1940 by legendary folk musician and political radical Woody Guthrie. At President Obama's inauguration this year, Pete Seeger -- one of the song's greatest champions -- sang it with Bruce Springsteen and grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, including the oft-omitted verse that questions our country's obsession with private property at the expense of common values:
3 - LIFT EVERY VOICE
The song known as the "Black National Anthem" made national headlines last year when, at Denver's annual State of the City address, Rene Marie -- who was asked to sing "the national anthem" -- sang words from this song to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, provoking debate and causing Marie to receive death threats. Below is Kim Weston's famous rendition of the song at the 1972 "Wattstax" concert in Los Angeles -- recognize the guy introducing her?
4 - THE HOUSE I LIVE IN
Wildly popular when it came out in the 1940s, the words were written by Abel Meerpol (under the pseudonym Lewis Allan), a leftist who also wrote the anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit" immortalized by Billie Holiday. The music was by Earl Robinson, who composed the labor anthem "Joe Hill" and was blacklisted in the McCarthy Era. Below, Frank Sinatra sings The House I Live In at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, with President Ronald Reagan -- apparently oblivious to the song's radical history and celebration of working-class culture -- nodding happily in the front row.
Frank Sinatra The house I live in 1986
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5 - BORN IN THE USA
Bruce Springsteen's 1984 smash hit was a stinging indictment of war and class divisions, tracing the story of a working-class man whose hard luck causes him to get shipped to Vietnam to "kill the yellow man," only to face neglect and hardship when he comes home. But the message was lost on many, including Ronald Reagan who tried to use the song in his re-election campaign. (Springsteen responded by dedicating another song to Reagan: "Johnny 99," about an unemployed auto worker who turns to murder.) Here's a clip of Springsteen singing "Born in the USA" in Paris, 1985:
What are your favorite July 4 songs?