You’re a Grand Old Flag! on Throwback Thursday: 4th of July edition

Today’s classic song is the rousing, spirited tune written in 1906 by George M. Cohan, himself born on the 4th of July.

Flag_of_the_USA_Oct2011

George M. Cohan was born into a Vaudevillian family and spent his life singing, dancing and writing for the stage. Considered a pioneer in stage musicals, he was one of the first to write “book musicals” and use songs to move the plot forward, rather than cobble together a collection of skits and songs that had little relation to each other. You’re A Grand Old Flag, one of his greatest hits, was written in 1906 for his musical, George Washington Junior. The song was inspired by a true story:

You're_A_Grand_Old_Flag_1One day, as he drove down a country road, Cohan gave a ride to an old man. He soon discovered the man was a Civil War Veteran who had fought at Gettysburg, and was  holding a carefully folded, but ragged old American Flag. As the vet reminisced about his experiences during the war, he said, “It was all for this; she’s a grand old rag.” Cohan loved the line, and originally named his tune “You’re a Grand Old Rag.” So many people objected to calling the American flag a rag, however, that he “gave ’em what they wanted” and changed the name to “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

Immediately popular, the song was sung in taverns, homes, and theaters across the country. Then, in 1917, a surge of patriotism caused by the U.S. entrance to WWI caused You’re a Grand Old Flag to be the first song from a musical to sell over a million copies of sheet music.

It’s a jaunty, proud tune, and has yet to go out of fashion on days like the 4th of July, or as we like to call it in my family, “America Day.” James Cagney’s version, from 1942 is still a popular rendition today.

 

You’re A Grand Old Flag

by George M. Cohan

You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev’ry heart beats true
‘neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there’s never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev’ry heart beats true
‘neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there’s never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

Happy Fourth of July!

2 comments

  1. Though I’ve been singing this song forever, it’s nice to now have more history about its Composer! Thanks CMN for your thoughtful post.

  2. I loved the backstory….and am happily channeling Jimmy Cagney!
    Thank you for a great post!

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