Ray Charles’s magnificent version of “America the Beautiful” reminds us that it is a perfect song for Memorial Day. In order to overcome the familiarity that prevents us from hearing the words of such songs, Charles begins with the song’s relatively unknown third verse on martial sacrifice:
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self the country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success
And every gain divine!
By this time, of course, he has our attention. After the chorus, Charles sings the song’s true first verse, but prefaces it by saying playfully, “You know when I was in school we used to sing it something like this. . .” He begins to sing it like a precocious choirboy, but then sings the second half of the verse with a lover’s uninhibited passion. As he returns to the chorus he testifies in gospel style: “America! I love you America!”