Songs of America Book Summary - Songs of America Book explained in key points
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Songs of America summary

Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation

4.1 (27 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw explores the history of American music and how it has shaped the country's identity. From folk songs to rock and roll, the authors showcase the power of music to inspire and unite us.

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    Songs of America
    Summary of 7 key ideas

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    Early American freedom fighters were inspired to write revolutionary songs.

    On June 10, 1768, Boston was on the verge of war. John Harrison, a British customs official, was attempting to confiscate a local ship, claiming that its American owner had not paid sufficient taxes on its contents. In response, Boston locals threw bricks, stones and insults at their British overlords. Though the British were not defeated that day, something else would come out of the Boston uprising – a song. 

    Following the riot, Pennsylvania colonist John Dickinson was inspired to write verses about the colonists’ right to self-determination. Entitled “The Liberty Song,” Dickinson implored his fellow Americans to “join hand in hand” to answer “fair Liberty’s call.” This rebellious song had an immediate impact. After it was published in the Boston Gazette, people all over the city left their homes with whatever musical instruments they had on hand and sung it in the streets. 

    Why this immediate popularity? Well, this song was one of the first to connect the idea of American independence with music. It affected people emotionally in a way that dry political writing simply couldn’t. Furthermore, “The Liberty Song showed Americans the potential for unity when they took to the streets together to sing it.

    Thanks in part to individuals like Dickinson and their rousing messages of freedom, America finally signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Unfortunately, though, this momentous event did not enshrine everyone’s liberty. For women and African American people in general, life carried on as it had before – in subjugation and slavery, respectively. 

    Nevertheless, in revolutionary America, these marginalized groups also expressed their yearning for freedom through song. In 1795, for instance, a song appeared in the Philadelphia Minerva newspaper. Entitled “Rights of Women,” and set to the familiar melody of “God Save the King,it proclaimed that “Woman is free” and should not “yield to slavish fear.” 

    20 years earlier, another American woman also called for liberation through verse. Her name was Phillis Wheatley, and she was an educated enslaved person. In a set of verses called “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” Wheatley addressed the taboo subject of equality. She wrote, “Negroes, black as Cain, may be refined, and join th’ angelic train.” Incredibly, Wheatley was such a gifted writer that some of her verses reached the desk of George Washington and were published after receiving his approval.

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    What is Songs of America about?

    Songs of America (2019) explores the music that has shaped American History. From African American spirituals to Elvis Presley’s rock and roll, these blinks shine a light on the music that has defined the progress, defeats and protests of Americans from all walks of life, over the last three centuries. 

    Songs of America Review

    Songs of America is a captivating exploration of the interplay between music and American history, making it a worthwhile read. Here's what makes this book special:

    • Through compelling narratives and rich storytelling, it uncovers the profound impact of music on shaping the American identity.
    • With its unique blend of historical analysis and personal anecdotes from the authors, the book offers a fresh perspective on familiar songs and their cultural significance.
    • The book's diverse range of musical genres and eras ensures a comprehensive exploration, keeping readers engaged and excited throughout.

    Best quote from Songs of America

    Shall I, like a coward, not join the fight...Scared by the enemys tyrannous might? - Farewell Song

    —Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw
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    Who should read Songs of America?

    • History buffs looking for a fresh perspective
    • Music geeks seeking a deeper understanding of song in America’s political struggles
    • Social justice warriors hoping for inspiration

    About the Author

    Jon Meacham is an American author. In 2009, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his biographical book American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. He is currently a contributing editor to Time Magazine. Tim McGraw is a country music singer and actor. He has received three Grammys and ten American Music Awards.

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    Songs of America FAQs 

    What is the main message of Songs of America?

    Songs of America explores the power of music in shaping the nation's history and identity.

    How long does it take to read Songs of America?

    The reading time for Songs of America can vary, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Songs of America a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Songs of America is a captivating book that offers a unique perspective on the impact of music throughout American history.

    Who is the author of Songs of America?

    Songs of America is co-authored by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw.