Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’: Story Behind the Song That Makes Us ‘Proud to Be an American’

by Caroline Bynum
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On Veteran’s Day, we honor those who have served in the past and those who fight for our country presently. Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ is the perfect way to honor those who have protected our nation and made us so proud to call ourselves Americans.

The 1984 hit song, which listeners also call ‘Proud to be an American,’ highlights why we should thank our “lucky stars to be living here today.”

And what or who is the main root of that gratitude? You guessed it, the military members and veterans who put their lives on the line to protect and defend the USA.

Why Lee Greenwood Wrote the Patriotic Hit Song

Lee Greenwood’s goal was to bring the country together, simple as that.

“I’ve always wanted to write a song about America, and I said we just need to be more united,” Greenwood tells The Boot about the song’s birth. Similarly, he tells NPR it was a plea for unity, “I meant that the nation would kind of ‘kumbaya’ — gather arms and let’s love each other.”

He became inspired by military veterans he saw at his shows and decided to begin writing an anthem for them and our country, NPR reports.

While the song is also called “Proud to Be an American,” Greenwood intentionally used “God Bless the USA” as the song title because of his strong faith.

“I wanted to put God first, because I’m a conservative Christian, and I wanted to make sure that God was honored in the song,” he says.

In addition, he explains that the music was inspired by John Phillip Sousa’s marches. The music is famous for its use in military marches. “The Sousa marches were in the back of my head,” Greenwood says, adding “And I wanted some pomp and circumstance.”

Lee Greenwood Honors American Heroes with ‘God Bless the USA’ Lyrics

Lee Greenwood honors those who have given their lives to give us our freedom. The song says he will never forget those who made the greatest sacrifice.

And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me

‘God Bless the USA’ by Lee Greenwood

When it comes to the specific lyrics and selection of which cities to mention in the song, Greenwood tells The Boot that he discussed the locations with his producer.

The lyrics mention Detroit, Houston, New York, and L.A., which he calls, “the four corners of the United States.”

Greenwood explains, “It could have been Seattle or Miami, but we chose New York and LA, and he suggested Detroit and Houston because they both were economically part of the basis of our economy – Motown and the oil industry – so I just poetically wrote that in the bridge.”

The song goes on to mention those four corners to illustrate the wide-reach of our nation’s pride. The chorus repeats the resounding statement: I love this land, God bless the U.S.A.

I’d gladly stand up next to you
And defend Her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt
I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.

‘God Bless the USA’ by Lee Greenwood

The Song’s Meaning Transforms as Our Nation Faces Different Obstacles

After the song’s release in 1984, it rose to #7 on country music charts. Later that year, President Ronald Reagan used the song at his reelection campaign’s National Republican Convention. It continues to morph into different versions of an anthem of unity, no matter the challenge the country is facing. Lee Greenwood recognizes that the song has meant different things at different times, taking on “a different kind of life.”

“I mean, during the Gulf War, it was a song of the war for [U.S. Army] Gen. [Norman] Schwarzkopf. After Hurricane Katrina, it was a song for life and hope, and then after 9/11, it was a song of unity and rebuilding,” he explains to The Boot. “It just makes me really proud that I’ve done something for the country and for my family. It’s my family’s heritage.”

And his family’s heritage, it is indeed. His father served in the Navy, his step-father was in the Air Force, and his band’s first bass player was a member of the National Guard. Because he grew up around American heroes and saw their dedication, he explains to Billboard, “I have always recognized the sacrifice of the military.”

Beyoncé released a version of the song in the days following the announcement that Osama Bin Laden was killed, to raise money for 9/11 charities.

Greenwood even turned the song into a children’s book in 2015. He uses the lyrics of the song to illustrate the story of a child being raised by his grandparents to “inspire a fundamental understanding of what it means to be free.”

Most recently, Greenwood released a new version of the hit featuring the United States Air Force Band, Singing Sergeants, and acapella group Home Free in July 2020.

Whether it represents rebirth after 9/11, hope following Hurricane Katrina, necessary unity during present unrest, or just a daily reminder to thank those who have served to defend us, the song takes on many identities of American patriotism.

An Anthem for the Military as Well as All Americans

“When you say the word anthem, it takes it to another place,” Lee Greenwood tells NPR. He says the ‘anthem’ category is a heavier title; it comes with a necessary motion: “An anthem is something that requires you to stand up at attention.”

“After 30-some years that I’ve sung this on stage, people do get up as if it is an anthem for their lives, for their country.,” he adds.

This was without a doubt my favorite song in the world as a seven-year-old. I grab tissues when I hear the tune begin to float from speakers. I remember screaming these lyrics with my great-grandfather, who was in the Air Force and led me in a 4th of July parade in the driveway each year.

So, in remembrance of him and every American hero, join me in turning up the stereo and (proudly) standing up. Thank you to our military heroes who are home with us now, who have passed away, who are miles away serving, and who are training to defend in the future. Thank you for your commitment to the United States.

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