Song of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation
© 2019 Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw
Songs of America is a partial history of America, illustrated by its music, one celebrating the progress of Americans toward greater political participation. The narrative opens with the War for Independence and moves through fits and jerks to the early seventies, unfortunately ignoring several periods of American history along the way. Most notably, the period between Reconstruction and The Great War has to make do with the brief mention of suffragists, which is appalling given how important music was to the early labor movement, for instance. As a story, it’s fine; think of the narrative Obama used in his “yes we can” speech and you’ll have the idea. It’s hopeful and sees the American ideal expanding to include more people. Obama’s speech managed to be more comprehensive, though, despite being far shorter.This makes the book’s focus politics and the state, though, not the American people and our many music traditions — traditions that have brought different ethnic groups and their individual musical heritages together, fusing them into diverse and rapturous styles. That’s a huge oversight and makes the book far less interesting that it could have been.