Who Wrote "America the Beautiful"?

The History of America's Unofficial National Anthem

Pikes Peak is mountain in Front Range of Rocky Mountains.
Pikes Peak, Colorado: the inspiration for the song "America the Beautiful.". Michael Leggero/Getty Images

Many consider "America the Beautiful" to be the unofficial national anthem of the United States. In fact, it was one of the songs being considered as a U.S. national anthem before "Star Spangled Banner" was officially chosen. The song is often played during formal ceremonies or at the opening of important events.

"America the Beautiful": The Poem

The words of this song came from a poem of the same title by Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929). She wrote the poem in 1893 and then revised it twice; first in 1904 and then in 1913. Bates was a teacher, poet, and author of several books including America the Beautiful and Other Poems which was published in 1911.

It is said that Bates' inspiration for the poem was a trek to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado. Taking a look at this excerpt, it's easy to see the connection:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

Putting Words to Music​

At first, the lyrics of "America the Beautiful," were sung to the tune of popular folk songs like "Auld Lang Syne." In 1882, composer and organist Samuel Augustus Ward (1848-1903) wrote the melody we all now associate with this iconic American song, but Ward's piece was originally titled "Materna."

Bates' lyrics were finally combined with Ward's melody and they were published together in 1910, to form the version of the song we now know today.

Modern Recordings of "America the Beautiful"

Many artists have recorded their own renditions of this patriotic song, including Elvis Presley and Mariah Carey. In September 1972, Ray Charles appeared on The Dick Cavett Show singing his version of "America the Beautiful."