Ballad for Americans

Paul Robeson

About Ballad for Americans

"Ballad for Americans" (1939), originally titled "The Ballad for Uncle Sam", is an American patriotic cantata with lyrics by John La Touche and music by Earl Robinson. It was written for the Federal Theatre Project production, Sing for Your Supper that opened on April 24, 1939. Congress abolished the Project on June 30, 1939. The “Ballad of Uncle Sam” had been performed 60 times. Producer Norman Corwin then had Robinson sing “Ballad of Uncle Sam” for the CBS brass. CBS was impressed and hired Paul Robeson to perform the song. Corwin retitled the song “Ballad for Americans.” Robeson and Robinson rehearsed for a week. On Sunday, November 5, 1939, on the 4:30 pm CBS radio show The Pursuit of Happiness, Robeson sang “Ballad for Americans” (Time, November 20, 1939). Norman Corwin produced and directed, Mark Warnow conducted, Ralph Wilkinson did the orchestration (in Robeson's key), and Lyn Murray handled the chorus. Robeson subsequently began to perform the song, beginning with a repeat on CBS on New Year's Eve. Robbins Music Corporation published the sheet music. 


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In seventy-six the sky was red
thunder rumbling overhead
Bad King George couldn't sleep in his bed
And on that stormy morn, Ol' Uncle Sam was born.
Some birthday! 

Ol' Sam put on a three cornered hat
And in a Richmond church he sat
And Patrick Henry told him that while America drew breath
It was "Liberty or death." 

What kind of hat is a three-cornered hat?
Did they all believe in liberty in those days? 

Nobody who was anybody believed it.
Ev'rybody who was anybody they doubted it.
Nobody had faith.
Nobody but Washington, Tom Paine, Benjamin Franklin,
Chaim Solomon, Crispus Attucks, Lafayette. Nobodies.
The nobodies ran a trea party at Boston. Betsy Ross
organized a sewing circle. Paul Revere had a horse race. 

And a little ragged group believed it.
And some gentlemen and ladies believed it.
And some wise men and some fools, and I believed it too.
And you know who I am.
No. Who are you mister? Yeah, how come all this?
Well, I'll tell you. It's like this... No let us tell you.
Mister Tom Jefferson, a mighty fine man. 
He wrote it down in a mighty fine plan.
And the rest all signed it with a mighty fine hand
As they crossed thier T's and dotted their I's
A bran' new country did arise. 

And a mighty fine idea. "Adopted unanimously in Congress July 4, 1776,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created 
That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable 
That among these rights are Life, Yes sir!, Liberty, That's right!
And the pursuit of happiness." 
Is that what they said? The very words.
That does sound mighty fine. 

Buildiing a nation is awful tough.
The people found the going rough.
Still nobody who was anybody believed it.
Everybody who anybody they stayed at home.
But Lewis and Clarke and the pioneers,
Driven by hunger, haunted by fears,
The Klondike miners and the forty niners,
Some wanted freedom and some wanted riches,
Some liked to loaf while others dug ditches.
But they believed it. And I believed it too,
And you know who I am.
No, who are you anyway, Mister? 

Well, you see it's like this. I started to tell you.
I represent the whole... Why that's it!
Let my people go. That's the idea!
Old Abe Lincoln was thin and long,
His heart was high and his faith was strong.
But he hated oppression, he hated wrong,
And he went down to his grave to free the slave. 

A man in white skin can never be free while his black brother is in 
"And we here highly resolve that these dead shall not haave died in 
And this government of the people, by the people and for the people
Shall not perish from the Earth."
Abraham Lincoln said that on November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, 
And he was right. I believe that too. 

Say, we still don't know who you are, mister.
Well, I started to tell you...
The machine age came with a great big roar,
As America grew in peace and war.
And a million wheels went around and 'round.
The cities reached into the sky,
And dug down deep into the ground.
And some got rich and some got poor.
But the people carried through,
So our country grew.

Still nobody who was anybody believed it.
Everybody who was anybody they doubted it.
And they are doubting still,
And I guess they always will,
But who cares what they say whem I am on my way 

Say, will you please tell us who you are?
What's your name, Buddy? Where you goin'? Who are you?
Well, I'm the everybody who's nobody, 
I'm the nobody who's everybody.
What's your racket? What do you do for a living? 

Well, I'm an
Engineer, musician, street cleaner, carpenter, teacher,
How about a farmer? Also. Office clerk? Yes sir!
That's right. Certainly!
Factory worker? You said it. Yes ma'am.
Absotively! Posolutely!
Truck driver? Definitely!
Miner, seamstress, ditchdigger, all of them.
I am the "etceteras" and the "and so forths" that do the work.
Now hold on here, what are you trying to give us?
Are you an American? 
Am I an American?
I'm just an Irish, Jewish, Italian, 
French and English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Polish, 
Scotch, Hungarian, Swedish, Finnish, Greek and Turk and Czech 

And that ain't all.
I was baptized Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, Luthern, 
Atheist, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist,
Mormon, Quaker, Christian Scientist and lots more.
You sure are something. 

Our country's strong, our country's young, 
And her greatest songs are still unsung.
From her plains and mountains we have sprung,
To keep the faith with those who went before. 

We nobodies who are anybody believe it.
We anybodies who are everybody have no doubts.
Out of the cheating, out of the shouting.

Deep as our valleys,
High as our mountains,
Strong as the people who made it.
For I have always believed it, and I believe it now,
And now you know who I am.
Who are you?
America! America!

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Paul Robeson

Paul Leroy Robeson ( /ˈroʊbsən/ ROHB-sən April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American singer and actor who was a political activist for the Civil Rights Movement. Although Robeson achieved artistic and financial success, the Spanish Civil War effectuated his deprecation of his commercial career in order to proselytize against Fascism and social injustices. Consequently, his advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with Communism, and his criticism of the US government would bring retribution and public condemnation during the the age of McCarthyism. He was blacklisted, and to his financial and social detriment, he remained recalcitrant and against the direction of US policies. Health reasons later is his life forced him to retire privately, but he remai… more »

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Lyrics © MUSIC SALES CORPORATION, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind

10 facts about this song

Political Context
"Ballad for Americans" was widely popular as a patriotic anthem during the World War II period. The lyrics celebrate the diverse cultural heritage of America and have a pro-union, inclusive message.
Artist Background
Paul Robeson was a world-renowned actor, singer, and civil rights activist. Beyond his career in entertainment, Robeson was also a prominent critic of racial discrimination in the U.S and elsewhere.
Song Creation
Originally, the song "Ballad for Americans" was written by Earl Robinson and John La Touche for a cantata, "Ballad for Americans," in 1939.
Initial Performance
"Ballad for Americans" was first performed on CBS radio by Robeson. The response was so positive that it was performed three more times over the air.
Album Recording
In 1940, Robeson recorded "Ballad for Americans" for Victor Records. It was a massive success, and the album was highly demanded even after the war.
Cultural Impact
The song was used in the political campaigns of both the American Communist Party and the Progressive Party.
Historical Relevance
"Ballad for Americans" was performed at the 1940 National Republican Convention and was also played at the 1941 inauguration of California Governor Culbert Olson.
Despite the patriotic overtones of "Ballad for Americans," Robeson's outspoken political views eventually led to his blacklisting during the McCarthy era. His recordings, including this track, were pulled from the circulation.
The song made a comeback during the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s and has been performed by various artists since, including Bing Crosby and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Lasting Legacy
Today, the song "Ballad for Americans" stands as a testament to Robeson's activism and fight against racial prejudice. It remains an important piece in the history of American music.

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