Unofficial National Anthem: America the Beautiful

ByABC News
October 9, 2001, 11:09 AM

Oct. 10 -- For years, people have lobbied to have America the Beautiful's images of the Rocky Mountains and golden wheat waving in the wind replace Francis Scott Key's militaristic "Star Spangled Banner" as the United States' national anthem.

And since the Sept. 11 attacks, the patriotism behind "America the Beautiful" has reached new heights as has the debate over the nation's anthem.

"I love this song," says ABCNEWS correspondent Lynn Sherr, who is the author of a new book called America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song. "I think it's simple, I think it's emotional, and I think it talks about a country, a land and its people not just about a flag, not just about a battle. It doesn't talk about conquest. It talks about the possibilities of this nation."

Sherr says the words, written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates as she traveled from Massachusetts to Colorado for a summer teaching job, are just as meaningful today.

"She was boundlessly optimistic and infinitely patriotic but it was not a blind patriotism," says Sherr of Bates' words, written when she was 33. "She was on a train going through Kansas on the Fourth of July in 1893 and she saw wheat waving in the wind, golden wheat She got to Colorado. She saw the Rocky Mountains, purple gorgeous mountains This trip was giving her fodder for the greatest poem she would ever write."

Bates published her poem, America the Beautiful in a church publication in 1895, and received $5 for her work. The music was written by Samuel Augustus Ward, an organist, and the two were put together.

Sherr says the words and the music were meant for each other.

"The very fact that it's the song that so often comes automatically to people's lips when there's a crisis or when there's a celebration, to me, is an indication that the American people want this song in their repertoire, whether it's official or not. It's very clearly, to me, the unofficial national anthem."