The next time you hear “God Bless America” performed at a Scouting event or a football or baseball game, think of Irving Berlin.
After all, Berlin thought of the Boy Scouts of America shortly after the song became a hit.
Berlin released “God Bless America” in 1938 (though he had written it two decades earlier). In 1940, he established the God Bless America Fund, setting aside the song’s royalties “for the benefit of the youth of America,” according to this story in The New York Times. The fund’s two major beneficiaries: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in New York.
And so, for the past 75 years, every time “God Bless America” has been performed, a portion of the royalties have gone to the Greater New York Councils of the Boy Scouts of America.
To date, the Boy Scouts of America — Berlin’s “favorite charity” — has received more than $5 million from the fund, according to Ethan V. Draddy, Scout Executive of the Greater New York Councils.
That money means countless Scouts, Explorers and Venturers — many who couldn’t otherwise afford to be in Scouting — have experienced our life-changing program because of Berlin’s generous gift.
Moreover, the 3,000-square-foot Irving Berlin Lodge at William H. Pouch Scout Camp in New York stands as a living reminder of Berlin’s benevolence. The building is used for courts of honor, blue and gold banquets, Order of the Arrow events, adult and youth training conferences, and other Scout activities.
An American by choice, if not birth
Though he was born in Russia in 1888, Berlin moved to New York City and fell in love with his adopted country. He said he felt blessed by the country’s warm welcome, as hinted at by the song’s lyrics: It’s “God bless America, land that I love” not “land that we love.”
Berlin said “God Bless America” wasn’t “just a song but an expression of my feeling toward the country to which I owe what I have and what I am.”
He was a member-at-large in the Greater New York Councils and regularly visited the council’s camps. He received the BSA’s highest honor for adults, the Silver Buffalo Award, in 1948.
But Berlin didn’t do it alone. His wife, Ellin, was a supporter of both Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting. While he served on a board for the Boy Scouts, she served on a board for the Girl Scouts.
In 1975, the Greater New York Councils recognized her Scouting dedication with the Silver Fawn Award, a now-discontinued award for women.
Irving Berlin died in 1989, at age 101. His generous and thoughtful legacy of support lives on every time we stand to sing:
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.
“God Bless America”
I couldn’t help but share this video of a Marine sergeant performing “God Bless America” during the 2013 World Series. It’s one of the best renditions I’ve seen.