America the Beautiful

Updated July 24, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The Question:

Who wrote the music and words to the song America the Beautiful?

The Answer:

The words were written by an instructor at Wellesley (Mass.) College named Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929). The Falmouth, Mass. native first jotted down the famous poem after an inspirational trip to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado in 1893.

America the Beautiful first appeared in print in The Congregationalist, a weekly journal, on July 4, 1895. Bates revised it in 1904 and its final version appeared in 1913.

The poem is set to the music of New Jersey musician Samuel A. Ward. His piece, which is older than the poem, is called "Materna." It was published in 1888 and reportedly composed in 1882. The two were first published together in 1910.

According to the Falmouth Historical Society, in 1926 the National Federation of Music Clubs thought Ward's composition was too somber and held a contest to put the poem to new music, but none of the entries was deemed suitable. The poem has since been sung to a variety of music, and Bates never admitted publicly which music she liked best. Today, America the Beautiful is almost exclusively sung to Ward's "Materna."

Follow these links to more information:

  • Katharine Lee Bates Biographical Notes
  • America the Beautiful lyrics

-The Editors

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