Mental Floss

On Music: Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" - Was it partly plagiarized?

David K. Israel
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Was the unofficial national anthem of the United States lifted from a couple different sources? Consider the following:

In 1906 a trio of Irish songwriters scored a minor vaudeville hit with the song "When Mose with his Nose Leads the Band." An eighteen-year-old named Israel Baline probably heard the song because he worked as a singing waiter and needed to know all the hits, big and small. One never knew what a table might request.

As Jody Rosen says in the liner notes from a recent re-release of "When Mose with his Nose Leads the Band" (Reboot Stereophonic): "A decade later, Baline had a new name, Irving Berlin, an exalted place among popular songwriters, and a habit of interpolating bits of half-remembered songs into his own numbers," which is exactly what he did when he wrote "God Bless America" in 1918. As you'll hear in the following two examples, the opening strains of the chorus from each song are identical, note for note.

"God Bless America" [excerpt]

"When Mose with his Nose Leads the Band" [excerpt]

As for Berlin's lyrics, take a close look at this little excerpt from another song (a very obscure song) called "God Bless America" written by Robert Montgomery Bird published over 80 years before Berlin's (1834, to be exact):

God bless America!/God bless the land, the land beloved

[Compare that to Berlin's: God bless America!/Land that I love"¦]

irving_berlin.jpg
irving_berlin.jpg /

So it's hard to nitpick. But still, one can't help but wonder if part of the decision to do so was possibly/maybe/perhaps (just perhaps) due to the fact that he possibly/maybe/perhaps felt an eensey weensey pang of guilt? Eh? Eh? A soupçon, maybe?

What do you all think?

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