“Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation” Jon Meacham & Tim McGraw

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Through all the years of strife and triumph, America has been shaped not just by our elected leaders and our formal politics but also by our music — by the lyrics, performers, and instrumentals that have helped to carry us through the dark days and to celebrate the bright ones.

From “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “Born in the U.S.A.,” Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take readers on a moving and insightful journey through eras in American history and the songs and performers that inspired us. Meacham chronicles our history, exploring the stories behind the songs, and McGraw reflects on them as an artist and performer. Their perspectives combine to create a unique view of the role music has played in uniting and shaping a nation.

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In 1795, the Philadelphia Minerva published “Rights of Woman,” a song based on a letter Abigail Adams sent her husband John while he was part of the Second Continental Congress twenty years prior. In part she wrote him, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”

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Singer Johnny Cash voiced his concerns with the state of America in his music in the 1970s. Songs like “What Is Truth” (the generation gap) and “Singin’ In Vietnam Talkin’ Blues” (based on his time visiting soldiers in the Vietnam War zone, written by Rosanne Cash) addressed how troubled he was with what was happening. Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” captures his “ambivalence about American glory and American sin: “But she’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in” according to the authors.

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The authors reflect on what President Bush referred to as a ‘day of fire’ as they write about 9/11. Singer Neil Young penned “Let’s Roll” to honor the courage of Todd Beamer and the other passengers who stormed the cockpit aboard United Airlines Flight 93. Alan Jackson wrote “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” in response to the impact on all Americans. “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” was Toby Keith’s lyrical response to the terrorist attacks.

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Songs of America explores both famous songs and lesser-known ones, expanding our understanding of the scope of American music and lending deeper meaning to the historical context of such songs as “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” “God Bless America,” “Over There,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” As Quincy Jones says, “From the songs of the enslaved to the sounds of the civil-rights movement, from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ to Springsteen’sThe Rising’ after 9/11, Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw have convened a concert in Songs of America. It is a glorious celebration of our diversity — and of the strength that comes from the myriad of voices of all races that make us who we are.

Song of America Random House Books

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