“The Providence Singers ... opening entrance in the final movement was breathtaking”
Channing Gray
Providence Journal
6 May 2013
(Mahler Symphony No. 2)


From sea to shining sea
The words, published in 1895, came from Wellesley College English teacher Katharine Lee Bates. The tune, by Samuel Ward, dates to 1882. Words and tune came together for America the Beautiful in 1904 and were published in 1910. Bates and Ward never met.

Samuel A. Ward
Katharine Lee Bates

America the Beautiful  (1904)

With its images of natural beauty and resolute national character, America the Beautiful occasionally serves as a rampart- and bomb-free national anthem. The Chinese played it to welcome President Richard Nixon on his historic 1972 visit.

The four-stanza poem America the Beautiful first appeared in the July 4, 1895, issue of the church periodical The Congregationalist. The poem’s author, Katharine Lee Bates, who taught English at Wellesley College, was inspired by a train trip out West. Much of what she saw on the trip found its way into her poem; the first lines came to her while atop Pikes Peak in Colorado, surrounded by “spacious skies above” and “purple mountain majesties.” She wrote prodigiously, publishing scholarly works, poetry, travel, and children’s literature. There were three versions of the poem (1893, 1904, 1911), which originally began “O beautiful for halcyon skies.”

The poem was widely appreciated before it was fitted to music. By 1900, at least 75 tunes had been been offered. Today’s well-known tune — Materna — was written in 1882 by composer, organist, and music salesman Samuel A. Ward, a descendant and namesake of an 18th-century Rhode Island governor. The melody came to Ward aboard a ferry returning to New York City after a day on Coney Island. He originally fitted it to the hymn O Mother Dear, Jerusalem. Ward died in 1903, never knowing how famous the tune would become. It was first put to the words for America the Beautiful in 1904. Words and text were published together in 1910. Bates lived until 1929.

The song quickly found a national popularity that continues to this day. Many attempts have been made to give it legal status as a national anthem in place of The Star-Spangled Banner, but none has been successful. Even so, what Bates said of it remains true: “That the hymn has gained ... such a hold as it has upon our people, is clearly due to the fact that Americans are at heart idealists, with a fundamental faith in human brotherhood.”

America, the Beautiful
Music by Samuel A. Ward (1847–1903) / Poetry by Katharine Lee Bates (1859–1929)

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Til all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

IV. (The audience joins the Singers)
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!