News and Culture Notebook
2:22 pm
Thu July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, United States of America

If you've never heard Paul Robeson singing "Ballad for Americans," here it is.

The song was written in 1939 and was originally called "The Ballad for Uncle Sam." The recording above is from 1940. In the decades since, it's been performed and recorded by Bing Crosby, the London Symphony Orchestra, Odetta and many more.

Ballad for Americans

Music by Earl Robinson

Words by John LaTouche

In ‘76 the sky was red, thunder rumbling overhead

Bad King George couldn't sleep in his bed

And on that stormy morn, Ol' Uncle Sam was born.

Some birthday!

Ol' Sam put on a three-cornered hat

And in a Richmond church he sat

And Patrick Henry told him that while America drew breath

It was "Liberty or death."

What kind of hat is a three-cornered hat?

Did they all believe in liberty in those days?

Nobody who was anybody believed it.

Ev'rybody who was anybody they doubted it.

Nobody had faith.

Nobody but Washington, Tom Paine, Benjamin Franklin

Chaim Solomon, Crispus Attucks, Lafayette. Nobodies.

The nobodies ran a tea party at Boston.

Betsy Ross organized a sewing circle. Paul Revere had a horse race.

And a little ragged group believed it.

And some gentlemen and ladies believed it.

And some wise men and some fools, and I believed it too.

And you know who I am.

No. Who are you mister? Yeah, how come all this?

Well, I'll tell you. It's like this... No let us tell you.

Mister Tom Jefferson, a mighty fine man.

He wrote it down in a mighty fine plan.

And the rest all signed it with a mighty fine hand

As they crossed their Ts and dotted their Is

A brand new country did arise.

And a mighty fine idea.

"Adopted unanimously in Congress July 4, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

That among these rights are Life, Yes sir!, Liberty, That's right!

And the pursuit of happiness."

Is that what they said? The very words.

That does sound mighty fine.

Building a nation is awful tough.

The people found the going rough.

Still nobody who was anybody believed it.

Everybody who anybody they stayed at home.

But Lewis and Clarke and the pioneers

Driven by hunger, haunted by fears

The Klondike miners and the forty niners

Some wanted freedom and some wanted riches

Some liked to loaf while others dug ditches.

But they believed it. And I believed it too.

And you know who I am.

No, who are you anyway, Mister?

Well, you see it's like this. I started to tell you.

I represent the whole... Why that's it!

Let my people go. That's the idea!

Old Abe Lincoln was thin and long

His heart was high and his faith was strong.

But he hated oppression, he hated wrong

And he went down to his grave to free the slave.

A man in white skin can never be free

While his black brother is in slavery

"And we here highly resolve that these dead

shall not have died in vain.

And this government of the people, by the people and for the people

Shall not perish from the Earth."

Abraham Lincoln said that on November 19, 1863

At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

And he was right. I believe that too.

Say, we still don't know who you are, mister.

Well, I started to tell you...

The machine age came with a great big roar

As America grew in peace and war.

And a million wheels went around and 'round.

The cities reached into the sky,

And dug down deep into the ground.

And some got rich and some got poor.

But the people carried through

So our country grew.

Still nobody who was anybody believed it.

Everybody who was anybody they doubted it.

And they are doubting still

And I guess they always will

But who cares what they say when I am on my way

Say, will you please tell us who you are?

What's your name, Buddy? Where you goin'? Who are you?

Well, I'm the everybody who's nobody

I'm the nobody who's everybody.

What's your racket? What do you do for a living?

Well, I'm an...

Engineer, musician, street cleaner, carpenter, teacher

How about a farmer? Also. Office clerk? Yes ma’am.

Mechanic! That's right. Howsewife? Certainly!

Factory worker? You said it. Stenographer? Uh huh.

Beauty specialist? Absotively! Bartender? Posolutely!

Truck driver? Definitely!

Miner, seamstress, ditchdigger, all of them.

I am the "et ceteras" and the "and so forths" that do the work.

Now hold on here, what are you trying to give us?

Are you an American?

Am I an American?

I'm just an Irish, Negro, Jewish, Italian

French and English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Polish

Scotch, Hungarian, Litwak, Swedish, Finnish, Canadian

Greek and Turk and Czech and double-check American!

And that ain't all.

I was baptized Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, Lutheran

Atheist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Presbyterian

Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Quaker, Christian Scientist and lots more.

You sure are something.

Our country's strong, our country's young

And her greatest songs are still unsung.

From her plains and mountains we have sprung

To keep the faith with those who went before.

We nobodies who are anybody believe it.

We anybodies who are everybody have no doubts.

Out of the cheating, out of the shouting

Out of the murders and lynching

Out of the windbags, the patriotic spouting

Out of uncertainty and doubting

Out of the carpet-bag and the brass spittoon

It will come again! Our marching song will come again!

Deep as our valleys, high as our mountains

Strong as the people who made it.

For I have always believed it, and I believe it now

And now you know who I am.

Who are you?

America! America!