A little history of “American The Beautiful” from NPR:
America the Beautiful” didn’t start out as an American anthem. It was first a poem written in 1893 by a teacher, Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), after a visit to Pike’s Peak in Colorado. It first appeared in print in 1895. Since then, more than 60 musical settings have been made of its words.
The music we typically associate with those words is by Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903). It was originally a hymn called “Materna” and was composed before Katharine Lee Bates took her trip to Pike’s Peak. Even though Bates did not have the melody in her mind, the words fit the music perfectly, and it has become the version we know today.
Check out Ray Charles’s live, soulful rendition.