238 years ago, our founding fathers declared our independence from Great Britain and gave birth to a new nation. The land of the free and the home of the brave proved that a nation for the people and by the people could succeed. Since 1776, the United States of America has seen the birth of so many people and innovations that have changed the world for the better. As Flip Wilson would say, without America, we wouldn’t have Ray Charles! (If you haven’t heard Flip Wilson’s analysis of the discovery of America, you need to fix that soon. Click here to better your life.) Baseball, apple pie, Mickey Mouse, lightbulbs, airplanes, John Wayne, telephones- the list goes on and on. Without the birth of America, who knows if we would have any of these things, including bluegrass!
Bluegrass is one of the only true American forms of music. (For proof, read “Bluegrass – America’s Music?“) Created by Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise, and Howard Watts on the stage of the historic Ryman Auditorium, bluegrass has changed the American musical landscape forever. So, what could be more American on the Fourth of July than listening to bluegrass songs about America!?
Because the United States of America began as thirteen colonies who told Great Britain to shove it 238 years ago today, I figured we would showcase thirteen of the best patriotic bluegrass tunes. Pour the lemonade and fire up the grill, because here is the essential bluegrass playlist for the Fourth of July!
Thank God For The U.S.A. – Jim & Jesse
Bluegrass hall of famers, Jim & Jesse McReynolds’ version of Albert E. Brumley’s Thank God for the U.S.A. is spectacular. Their tight brother harmonies are some of the best in bluegrass, and matched with such a great song, they had the makings of a classic. If only more people heeded the words of this song and were thankful for the right to be an American…
Thank God for the U.S.A.
Land of the brave and the true
Thank God for the true American way
For the stars and the red, white, and blue
Thank God for the land we love
Life and our liberty
Thank God for the right to be an American
Thank God for the U.S.A.
More Than A Name On A Wall – Dailey & Vincent
Dailey & Vincent learned this song from their friend and former Statler Brothers, Jimmy Fortune. More Than A Name On A Wall appeared on their self-titled debut album, and has been one of their most requested tunes.
She said, Lord, my boy was special
And he meant so much to me
And, Oh, I’d love to see him
Just one more time you see
All I have are the memories
And the moments to recall
So Lord, could you tell him
He’s more than a name on a wall
God Bless America – IIIrd Tyme Out
IIIrd Tyme Out delivered a short, simple rendition of the Irving Berlin classic on Round III At The MAC. The a cappella arrangement draws special attention to the lyrical beauty of this American standard we’ve all heard a million times.
For The Dear Old Flag I Die – American Drive
The latest single from American Drive (or as I like to call them, The Old New South) is an often overlooked Stephen Foster song. Arguably the father of American songwriting, Foster’s For The Dear Old Flag I Die dates back to the Civil War and tells the story of a young drummer boy who is proud to give his life to protect his country. American Drive perform the song in the spirit of The New South. Their arrangement makes the song sound like a J.D. Crowe standard.
For the dear old flag I die
Mother, dry your weeping eye
For the honor of our land
And the dear old flag I die
I’d Rather Have America – Jimmy Martin
The King of Bluegrass expresses the love of his homeland and freedom in this bluegrass classic. He’s also not afraid to bash all other countries, although poor Iceland and Greenland receive the blunt of the jokes. If I’m not mistaken, Jimmy learned this song from California country star, Wynn Stewart. Regardless of origin, the song fits Jimmy’s style and personality like a glove.
I’ve sailed the wide Atlantic to France and Germany
The beauty there in Paris just didn’t mean a thing to me
I made my way to England and on to Italy
‘Cause I’d rather have America, my homeland where I’m free
America, Where Have You Gone? – Larry Cordle
From his masterpiece of an album, Pud Marcum’s Hangin’, The Mighty Cord delivers his take on hot button issues. His common sense reaction to the infamous bailout and the deportation of jobs overseas should serve as a dose of reality to the bigwigs in Washington DC. Written in a similar vein to Merle Haggard’s Are The Good Times Really Over, Larry Cordle’s America, Where Have You Gone has become one of his most popular songs among fans.
They’ve bailed out the banks,
AIG and GM
But the workin’ man picked up the tab
Politicians have sent all the jobs overseas
Well, it just makes me fightin’ mad
America, where have you gone?
All that I hold dear
When did it disappear?
Where are the values that made you so strong?
America, where have you gone?
The Star Spangled Banner – The Isaacs
No patriotic playlist would be complete without our national anthem. In my opinion, the Isaacs set the gold standard when they recorded their a cappella version of The Star Spangled Banner in 2002. You can’t beat family harmony, and Sonya, Becky, and Ben Isaacs are the best of the best.
Liberty And Justice For All – Paul Williams & The Victory Trio
One of the greatest songwriters and tenor voices in bluegrass history, Paul Williams is a true legend. Hearkening to the values of “For God & Country,” Paul wrote a great patriotic Gospel song in 2003 which you’ll find yourself singing for days.
I’ve always been proud to live in this country
Where we can all be free
Now our independence is being threatened
By those who refuse to believe
Strong faith in God and love for our neighbor
That’s what this country’s about
If you hate God and each other
You don’t know what freedom’s about
Wave the Star-Spangled Banner
And ring the Liberty Bell
Remember the ones who fought and died
For the freedom we all know well
Cling to the Rock of Ages
The one who died on the cross
One nation under God, indivisible
With liberty and justice for all
Let’s Keep Old Glory Waving – Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys
In August 1971, Ralph recorded a rare album, Sings Michigan Bluegrass, with arguably the Clinch Mountain Boys’ most talented lineup: Roy Lee Centers, Curly Ray Cline, Jack Cooke, Ricky Skaggs, and Keith Whitley. Talk about your bluegrass royalty! The combination of veteran experience and young tenacity makes this one of the greatest bluegrass bands ever. One of the first songs on which a young Keith Whitley sang lead was a song Ralph Stanley co-wrote, Let’s Keep Old Glory Waving.
As of citizen of our great country
America- so strong, brave, and true
Look upon Old Glory with pride and with honor
She means freedom and peace for me and you
Let’s keep Old Glory waving
High above our nation’s door
Hold her up like a true American
And let’s keep Old Glory waving evermore
Till They Came Home – Rhonda Vincent
Till They Came Home is an appreciation for our soldiers who serve overseas. From World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom, most of us have had a loved one who served overseas. As a country, we all shared this song’s sentiment any time our military goes to a foreign land to protect the freedom of ourselves and others. I’ve heard Rhonda Vincent deliver this song countless times, and she always pours her heart and soul into it. She always performs the song with the utmost reverence and respect to all who serve.
And as the headlines rolled
Every mother prayed
Every father laid awake
The whole night through
Every brother bragged
Every sister cried
Every hometown across this land held on
Till they came home
The Last Parade – Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers
Another more recent song, The Last Parade was written by Steve Bonafel. He wrote the song in honor of Sgt. Nickolas Carnes of Dayton, KY, who lost his life defending our freedom in Afgahnistan in 2007. Steve Bonafel attended the memorial parade for Sgt. Carnes and was so moved by the display, he wrote this song afterwards in honor of all of our fallen heroes.
As I left my home I took my flag
And I took my place on the town’s main drag
There were little kids and bikers there
For a single cause: to show they care
Thank you, Son, for how you fought that day
Thank you, Mom, for the son you gave
The least I can do is let Ol’ Glory wave
As the tears rain down on your last parade
I’ll Keep Old Glory Waving High – The Boys From Indiana
Aubrey Holt is one of bluegrass’ most under-appreciated songwriters, having written such great songs as Atlanta Is Burning, You Can Mark It Down, Headin’ South, and Good Time Blues. Alongside his brother, Jerry; uncle, Harley Gabbard; Paul Mullins; and Noah Crase, The Boys From Indiana were one of the top acts at bluegrass festivals across the country in the seventies, and Aubrey’s I’ll Keep Old Glory Waving High was one of their biggest hits.
The years have gone by, yet she’s standing
A symbol of freedom for mankind
Now when I hear “The Star Spangled Banner”
It still sends a chill up my spine
I fought for her as a young man
So full of fear I thought I’d surely die
I’d fight again if they’d ask me
Yes, I’ll keep Old Glory waving high
America The Beautiful – The Osborne Brothers
One of bluegrass’ most moving instrumental pieces, Sonny Osborne’s banjo interpretation of America The Beautiful is captivating. Anyone who ever had the privilege of seeing Sonny perform the song live before he was forced to retire, can attest to the power in its performance. I can remember as a little boy seeing Sonny perform America The Beautiful at the Nutter Center in Dayton, OH as part of an all-star Earl Scruggs tribute show in the spring of 2002. The image of Sonny and his banjo standing in front of a giant American flag is ingrained in my memory for forever. I’m sure others have had similar experiences. This is an absolute must for any bluegrass Fourth of July playlist.
What are some of your favorite bluegrass songs that celebrate America? Sound off in the comments below.
Have a fun and safe Fourth of July!
photo by LuAnn Adams
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