PROUD AMER­I­CAN Lee Green­wood’s an­them still res­onates

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - COVER STORY - By Michael Don­ahue

Lee Green­wood didn’t have big plans for “God Bless the USA” when he com­posed the song in 1983.

“It’s not like I sat down and said, ‘I’m go­ing to write the song of my life.’ ”

But,he­said,thesong­was“some­thing I be­lieved in.”

Green­wood, a Grammy Awa rd-win ning singer who will per­form

Satur­day at Ave Maria Home’s 15th An­nual Silent Auc­tion and Con­cert in the Sally Hook Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter at St. Agnes Academy-st. Do­minic School, said the in­spi­ra­tion for the chart­top­ping pa­tri­otic song was a news head­line.

“An air­liner was shot down. It made me think about Amer­ica and its strengths and weak­nesses. It was a Korean air­liner fly­ing over Rus­sian space. It had some Amer­i­cans on it. It got me to think­ing.”

He wrote the song on the road. “I had a pi­ano in the back of my bus. It was an elec­tric pi­ano. I had it hinged against the wall so I could raise it up, slide un­der it and sit on my bed. I played ev­ery sin­gle night. I plugged in the head­phones.”

Green­wood never planned on the song be­ing a sin­gle.

“Uni­ver­sal made that call,” he said, re­fer­ring to his record la­bel, Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic, now Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic Group.

He was in­vited to sing on TV’S “Solid Gold” on Hal­loween night in 1983 in Los An­ge­les. He sang one or two of his hits and left the show with a bot­tle of Cham­pagne given to him by the show’s host, Mar­i­lyn Mccoo. He also had a ses­sion tape of the al­bum he was work­ing on in his pocket.

Green­wood was in a limo on his way to the air­port to go back to Nashville when he asked his driver where Irv­ing Azoff, pres­i­dent of Uni­ver­sal, lived. Azoff’s house was be­tween Bar­bra Streisand’s and Neil Diamond’s houses, he said.

“Stand­ing in the front door was Irv­ing Azoff and his three lit­tle chil­dren dressed as bum­ble­bees.”

Green­wood in­tro­duced him­self, and Azoff in­vited him in. He said he wanted Azoff to hear his new sin­gle, “You’ve Gotta Good Love Comin’.” “But af­ter he lis­tened to ‘USA’ that night, he was like, ‘Well, let me hear the whole project.’ ”

Later, when Green­wood re­turned to Los An­ge­les, Azoff was asked which song should be Green­wood’s new sin­gle. “He said, ‘I think it ought to be ‘ God Bless the USA,’” Green­wood said.

In 1985, Green­wood won the CMA Song of the Year for writ­ing “God Bless the USA.” The song has been in the top five of the country sin­gles charts three times, the only song in any genre of mu­sic to achieve that feat. It also rose No. 1 on the pop charts af­ter the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

The song is part of the De­part­ment of Homeland Se­cu­rity film shown dur­ing the swear­ing-in cer­e­mony for new U.S. citizens.

Green­wood wrote a chil­dren’s book, “Proud to be an Amer­i­can” (Clover­croft Pub­lish­ing, $15), which teaches chil­dren about pa­tri­o­tism. “This is some­thing for grand­par­ents and par­ents to read to their chil­dren,” he said.

The il­lus­trated book, which was pub­lished last year, de­buted at the top of the Ama­zon charts the week of its re­lease.

“I think pa­tri­o­tism gets a lit­tle lost in our so­ci­ety,” Green­wood said. “Thank God for sports. If we didn’t have bas­ket­ball games, base­ball games, hockey games and foot­ball games, I don’t think we would hear the na­tional an­them again.’”

Green­wood’s lat­est CD is “I Want to be in Your World.” He wrote three of the seven songs and plays sax­o­phone on the orig­i­nal track “Here Comes Love There Goes My Heart.” He also cov­ered the Michael Mcdon­ald/kenny Log­gins bal­lad ‘You Can Let Go Now,’ which fea­tures Mcdon­ald, a for­mer Mem­phian, on pi­ano.

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