Throughout its history songs have always connected America in ways that transcend our individual differences, reminding us of our common struggles and triumphs as a people. In their remarkable book, Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation, Pulitzer Prize author and historian Jon Meacham and Country Music artist and Grammy Award winner Tim McGraw highlight the artists, music, and lyrics that have captivated audiences and captured what it is that defines the American Spirit.
American record producer Quincy Jones writes that “Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw have convened a concert in Songs of America… a glorious celebration of our diversity – and of the strength that comes from the myriad of voices of all races that makes us who we are.” And the book jacket expands upon Quincy’s statement, adding that it’s not just a reminder of who we are or where we’ve been, but what “we, at our best, can be.”
Jon Meacham provides the historical context that I’ve previously admired (see my post dated 12/9/20, The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels – My Review.) He brings to life the various eras in American history and the defining events and moments that caused these songs to be written. His prose is so well constructed and insightful that the reader is transported through time not just learning about our past, but connecting intimately and totally in the lifeblood and spirit of the nation.
Tim McGraw reflects on the artistry of the performers and provides a unique perspective on the importance of these songs as well as the impact they had in capturing the mood and tenor of the times through music. His contribution to the book is profound. For me, it elevates it from a history lesson to a “must read.” We are all familiar with the songs, everything from our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to hymns and spirituals like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” songs of protest like “This Land Is Your Land” to “Blowin’ in the Wind,” to patriotic songs like “Born in the U.S.A” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” We have heard them sung throughout our lives, but we haven’t always considered what those songs meant not only to us, but to those whose voices forever enshrined them in the lexicon of uniquely American compositions and engrained them into our hearts and minds.
The collaboration of Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw takes the reader on an emotional journey with a focus seldom explored in literature. Songs of America is a book for the ages and one that should be read by every American.