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SLSO Songs of America | "America the Beautiful"

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

"America the Beautiful"

arr. by Adam Maness

Malena Smith, vocals

Celeste Golden Boyer, Alison Harney, violin

Leonid Plashinov-Johnson, viola

Alvin McCall, cello


Vocalist Malena Smith: “Initially, it felt ironic to sing this gorgeous song that proclaims the beauty of our country during such a divisive time as we stand against racism and fight for equitable change for black Americans. However, as I studied this song, I believe that there is a vivid element of hope, both lyrically and melodically, that I connected to.”

“I was excited to be a part of this project because I really admire the excellent musicians of the SLSO and love listening to them. To share in this project with them in honor of the city that I also love was a gift to me. “

The Piece

Katharine Lee Bates wrote the words of “America the Beautiful” on an 1893 trip to Colorado as a college lecturer. She rode in a horse-drawn wagon to the top of Pike’s Peak. “We were hoping for half an hour on the summit,” she wrote, “but two of our party became so faint in the rarified air that we started on our downward plunge so speedily that our sojourn on the peak remains in memory hardly more than one ecstatic gaze. It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind.”

Bates’ text was paired with many of the era’s popular and folk tunes for years, but by the 1920s it had found its match with a melody written by her contemporary, Samuel August Ward. The Library of Congress says of the piece, “It conveys an attitude of appreciation and gratitude for the nation's extraordinary physical beauty and abundance, without triumphalism.”

The Place

Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis offers expansive views of St. Louis and the Mississippi River, and features the Gateway Geyser, the nation’s tallest water fountain, reaching the same 630 feet as the Arch.

The park’s namesake was an attorney by trade who became instrumental in planning the D-Day invasion at Normandy during World War II (for which he was honored with a Bronze Medal). In addition to his role in extending the Gateway Arch’s presence into Illinois, Martin made significant contributions to the St. Louis community, from co-founding the Nine Network and the Arts and Education Council, to involvement in Education and Foreign Relations, to service as an SLSO trustee.

Today, the park serves to connect both sides of the river, offering a new perspective and chance to reflect.


Malena Smith is an SLSO IN UNISON Fellow.

IN UNISON is supported by Bayer Fund.

Special thanks to Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park.

Special thanks to the Centene Charitable Foundation, the Steward Family Foundation, and World Wide Technology for their support of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.


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