Country Singer Lee Greenwood Talks About Writing The Anthem “God Bless the USA,” The Song’s Impact, And Writing His Songs
Country star Lee Greenwood is a Grammy-winning artist who’s had an impressive career which has spanned several decades. He’s had seven #1 Billboard country hits as an artist, plus 13 other singles which reached the Top 10. Greenwood has released more than 30 albums, and he’s won awards from both the CMA (Country Music Association) and ACM (Academy of Country Music).
Despite his success with many hits, Greenwood is perhaps best known now for writing and performing the patriotic anthem “God Bless the USA,” which has become a standard which has inspired many people, and pays tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces.
We’re pleased that Greenwood recently did a new interview with us, about how he wrote “God Bless the USA.” and to reflect on the song’s impact. But before starting this interview, here’s some information about this anthem.
“God Bless the USA” was first released in 1984 and became a country hit; it subsequently won the CMA award for Song of the Year. The song’s popularity and impact rose sharply during the Gulf War in 1990-91, and especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City in 2001. The song was re-released as a single and became a hit again on both the pop and country charts.
“God Bless the USA” has been voted the most recognizable patriotic song in America. Greenwood personally knows what it’s like to have loved ones fighting for the freedom of all Americans; his father served in the Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. Notably, “God Bless the USA” is now part of the film for Homeland Security shown when swearing in new citizens to the United States.
Greenwood is well known for his love of patriotic songs. In 1992 he recorded an album titled American Patriot, which not only consisted of Greenwood singing a new version of “God Bless the USA,” but his renditions of other patriotic standards such as “This Land Is Your Land,” “God Bless America” and “America The Beautiful.” The album was a huge success and was certified double platinum.
Over the years, other artists have recorded “God Bless the USA,” such as Dolly Parton, Josh Gracin and Mac Davis. In 2011, Beyonce offered her version of “God Bless the USA” as a download, with the proceeds going to the 9/11 firefighters fund in New York City.
“God Bless the USA” has been performed by contestants on the TV show American Idol, and featured on Dancing with the Stars, and in other TV shows and movies. It is regularly performed at many military and patriotic events in the U.S.
Earlier this year, Greenwood released his first children’s book, Proud To Be An American. The book marks his third professional work as an author, and features lyrics from “God Bless The USA,” paired with colorful illustrations by Amanda Sekulow.
Here is our new Q&A interview with Lee Greenwood:
DK: What inspired you to write “God Bless the USA”?
Greenwood: Writing “God Bless the USA” was in the back of my mind for some time. It’s the song I always felt the need to write. I wanted to have something that would unite Americans from coast to coast, and to instill pride back in the United States.
Lee Greenwood performs “God Bless the USA” at Yankee Stadium in New
York City for the 2001 World Series, one month after the 9/11 attacks.
DK: I read that you wrote “God Bless the USA” in the back of your tour bus. Is that true?
Greenwood: Yes. When I came to Nashville, I toured heavily. I signed my first label deal with MCA (Universal) in 1979, and we would travel 300 days a year on the road. It was grueling. My only chance to write was when I was riding on the bus. After I finished a concert, my adrenaline would be running. I would get back on the bus, and it would give me a chance to relax, and then it would be my creative time. I wrote most of my songs while I was on the road, in the bus.
DK: Did you come up with the song title first?
Greenwood: Actually, the title came last. The title was the last line of the chorus and everything preceded that.
DK: Did you write this song on a piano, or on guitar?
Greenwood: I wrote it on my keyboard—it’s hinged inside the back of the bus. I would plug in my headphones and write that way. For the first verse, I wrote the lyrics first and then the melody. For the chorus, I was able to come up with the melody right away.
DK: I like how the chorus melody really lifts into a higher range.
Greenwood: I have a high range with my voice, and I usually sing in the key of F. That was the range I wanted for this song; I was comfortable singing in that range.
DK: Did it take you long to write this song?
Greenwood: I wrote most of the song in one day…it flowed pretty well. I waited until I got home to make sure I got the lyrics right. I wanted to mention all the states and cities in the song: Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, Detroit, Houston, New York and L.A.
When I got back to Nashville, I played it for my producer, Jerry Crutchfield, and he liked it. It wasn’t in the mainstream of what I usually do, but Universal Records heard it and decided to go with it. The record was released in 1985, it became a hit, and it was eventually named the CMA Song of the Year.
I was so pleased that people responded to this song. We are so blessed to live in this country. Even if you lose everything in a fire or other tragedy, there’s still an opportunity to succeed again and rebuild your life. That was the theme of the song, more than it being about the military. But I did write the key line in the chorus which referred to soldiers who have died fighting for our country and freedom. The word “died” (sung in the chorus) is a really impactful word. As Americans in our history, we’ve given an awful lot of blood to our survival, from the Revolutionary War, World Wars I & II, up to the present time.
DK: After you won the CMA award, did the popularity of “God Bless the USA” continue to grow?
Greenwood: After my tenure at MCA Records, I figured that “God Bless the USA” had run its course. I moved to a new label, Capitol/Liberty Records. We did the American Patriot album, and I recorded a new version of “God Bless the USA” and recorded many other patriotic songs. The album was an amazing success; it went double platinum.
Then other events began to shape America’s future. People would always reach out to “God Bless the USA.”
DK: I’ve read that over the years, you’ve performed live for the U.S. troops on many USO tours.
Greenwood: I’ve done about 30 USO tours. On my last tour (a few years ago), I went to Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kuwait (and other Middle Eastern countries), and then we played in Okinawa and Hawaii, too.
I’ve sung “God Bless The USA” for many large crowds, such as Yankee Stadium for the 2001 World Series, which was a month after 9/11 happened. The biggest crowds are at University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, which seats 106,000 people. I’ve also sung “God Bless the USA” at the White House and many other events.
DK: When you reflect upon the impact of “God Bless the USA,” what comes to mind?
Greenwood: I’m just glad that I had the initiative to write it fairly early in my career, although I didn’t start my music career in Nashville until I was 37. “God Bless the USA” stands at the pinnacle of my career, and it makes me very proud. When people hear it, particularly when there’s a crisis, it feels good that the song gives them a sense of comfort and security.
Listen to Lee Greenwood singing his classic anthem, “God Bless the USA”.