America (Leonard Bernstein Song)
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America Leonard Bernstein Song

"America" is a song from the musical West Side Story. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics and Leonard Bernstein composed the music.

Content

In the original stage version, Anita - the most important female character after Maria and the girlfriend of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks - praises America while a fellow Puerto Rican immigrant, Rosalia, supports Puerto Rico. This version of the song deprecates the island and highlights the positive qualities of American life ("I'll drive a Buick through San Juan/If there's a road you can drive on"). The irony of this supposedly pro-American number, however, is its vibrantly Hispanic musical style, with Latin percussion, complex cross-rhythm and Spanish guitar.

In the 1961 film version, Anita, played by Rita Moreno, still sings in favor of the United States while Bernardo, played by George Chakiris, replies with corresponding criticisms of America and American anti-immigrant prejudice, especially against Puerto Ricans ("Life is all right in America/If you're all white in America"). Some of the original song's disparagement was removed.

In 2004, this version finished at No. 35 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

The song employs a mixed meter:

"I like to be in A-mer-i-ca" from West Side Story.

The alternating bars of 6
8
(six eighth-notes in two groups of three) with 3
4
(three quarter-notes) (similar to a bulería) is a distinctive characteristic of the song. This rhythm has been called both a hemiola and a habanera but is not really either. The two bar-types alternate and are not superposed, as in a hemiola. The alternation is comparable with the "Habanera" from "Carmen", but "America" lacks the distinctive characteristic underlying rhythm of the habanera form.

The composer's tempo instruction is "Tempo di Huapango".

Cover versions

An instrumental version, with the signature rhythm reduced to a uniform 4
4
, was released in 1963 by Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass on their album Volume 2.

Trini Lopez covered "America" in 1963 for his first album Trini Lopez at PJ's.

In 1968, The Nice, featuring Keith Emerson, covered an instrumental version of "America" as the band's second single. This version had the main theme playing against a straight 4
4
beat, also including pieces of Dvo?ák's New World Symphony, then changing in the middle to 6
8
for improvised guitar and organ solos. At a July 7, 1968, concert at the Royal Albert Hall, the band controversially burned an American flag after performing the song.[1] Emerson later folded the melody into a great many of his jams including the 14-minute "Finale (Medley)" on the 1993 Emerson, Lake & Palmer album Live at the Royal Albert Hall which also used musical themes from "Blue Rondo à la Turk", a jazz standard composed by Dave Brubeck.

The English psychobilly band King Kurt covered this song on an EP called America, released in 1986.

The heavy-metal band Metallica incorporated a few bars from the song in the opening riff from their song, "Don't Tread on Me". The "America" melody again featured prominently in a 1986 jam with Paul Shaffer on Late Night with David Letterman.

Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem performed an instrumental rendition on a 1979 episode of The Muppet Show before being interrupted by various Muppets from other countries.

A version of this song was performed by the in-house band and singers to introduce a 2012 episode of the Polish version of Name That Tune, Jaka to Melodia?, complete with a set of dancers.

This song was also used in an episode of Glee (season 3 episode 5: "The First Time"), and sung by Naya Rivera (aka Santana Lopez) in the role of Anita, and Mark Salling (aka Noah "Puck" Puckerman) in the role of Bernardo.

In the progressive rock band Yes' cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "America", bassist Chris Squire quotes the West Side Story song near the conclusion of their instrumental intro.

Usage in popular culture

A theme from "America" was referenced by John Williams for his celebratory For New York, composed in 1988 for Bernstein's 70th birthday gala.[2]

In 2011, the song was covered by the cast of musical comedy television series Glee in the fifth episode of the third season, "The First Time" (aired on November 8), with character Santana Lopez (portrayed by Naya Rivera) on the lead.[3] A minor controversy was caused over using the film version of the song, while a high school would normally use the stage version.

In 2003, the song was used in advertisements for Admiral Insurance though with different lyrics.

In 1994, the song was also the unofficial anthem at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States and was sung by the 3 Tenors (Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti) at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles to an estimated global TV audience of 1.3 billion viewers.

References

External links


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