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America: A Hymnal

Since the debut of My Country ’Tis of Thee by the Rev. Samuel F. Smith on July 4, 1831, the song’s lyrics have been re-titled and re-written at least one hundred times.

Each re-writing in support of a passionately held cause—from temperance and suffrage to abolition and even the Confederacy—articulates a version of what it means to be American. In 1839 for instance, the familiar first lines of “My country ’tis of thee / Sweet land of liberty,” morphed into the mournful abolitionist verse:

My country! ’tis of thee,
Stronghold of Slavery,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside,
Thy deeds shall ring.

Organized by artist Bethany Collins in conjunction with the Smart Museum of Art’s presentation of Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection, this four hour performance features all 100 versions of the song, sung by individual performers. In its many lyrical variations, America: A Hymnal presents a chronological retelling of American history, politics and culture through one song.

FREE, open to all. 

Image: Bethany Collins, Installation view of America: A Hymnal, 2017, Book with 100 laser cut leaves, and My destiny is in your hands, 2018, Blind embossed wallpaper. Photo: Zachary Balber. Courtesy of Locust Projects and the artist.  

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