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UK viewers could be forgiven for wondering why our national anthem was being played at the Washington ceremony. In fact, the famous song shares the same melody with another US anthem. My Country ‘Tis of Thee is a patriotic song, sung by Americans to celebrate their nation. One of these occasions is the inauguration, where the new President is sworn in to begin their term. But how did it happen that such an ironically song, formally known as America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee), sound exactly the same as the iconic and world-famous British anthem?
Is inauguration song My Country ‘Tis of Thee the same as God Save the Queen?
While the tune is the same, the lyrics are very different and commemorate a different nation entirely.
The song, which is also known as America, served as one of the de facto national anthems of the country, before they eventually adopted the song which will later be sung by Lady Gaga, The Star Spangled Banner.
America was written in 1831 by Samuel Francis Smith, who was studying at a seminary in Massachusetts.
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He was asked to translate the lyrics in German songbooks to English, or write new lyrics for the song, which was to be set to the tune used in Muzi Clementi’s third symphony, known as The Great National.
The Great National, with the lyrics originally commemorating the King of England, George II, was included in the symphony to pay homage to Clementi’s adopted country, England.
However, the tune’s original writer is not easy to trace, as the melody is believed to have turned up in some plainsong, as well as some other early works by composers John Bull and Henry Purcell.
To this day, it is not clear exactly where the tune came from, however it has been used in a great many works by composers of the years, with names such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Edward Elgar and Carl Maria von Weber including the tune in their works.
The God Save the King anthem has been used for a long time, with the first version of the lyrics being published in Gentleman’s Magazine in 1745.
However, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when it became the UK’s national anthem, and other songs are also sung regularly at large events in moments of patriotism.
As for America, Samuel Francis Smith gave his lyrics to his friend to set to the famed tune, and it was first performed in the USA on Independence Day in 1831.
It was then published in 1832 and became one of the many anthems sung by patriots.
More than 10 years later a new version of the lyrics were published, this time from an abolitionist’s point of view against the continuation of slavery.
The song has been utilised in many famous events and songs by more modern performers, but it is best remembered as having been quoted by Martin Luther King Jr in his famous I Have a Dream speech.
In the speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, Martin spoke the first verse of the song towards the end of his comments.
The lyrics are:
My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!
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