1905 was quite a year for 27 year old George M. Cohan. It was the year of his third successive Broadway hit. George Washington Jr. followed in the wake of Little Johnny Jones and 45 Minutes from Broadway.
George Washington Jr. came about a little differently than George's other shows. It was his habit to write the book and then compose the songs. In the case of this show, it was the song that came first - a song. A song that was inspired when the young man rode in the funeral procession for a Civil War veteran. George was riding with a veteran who told the young man of his experiences at Gettysburg and of the ideals for which he and his comrades fought. "And it was all for this," the old soldier said, stroking the folded, tattered flag in his lap. "She's a grand old rag."
Inspired, George wrote:
You're a grand old rag, you're a high-flying flag,
And forever, in peace, may you wave;
You're the emblem of the land I love,
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true, under Red, White and Blue;
Where there's never a boast or brag;
But, should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old rag.
The song was an immediate sensation in the show, but raised a controversy in the newspapers as critics objected to Cohan's relegating the flag to the dustbin. Are critics deliberately obtuse? George M. Cohan, the most patriotic of performers? Well, George lost a bit of the poignant drama of his song by bowing to controversy and changing "rag" to "flag", but his exuberant song lives on.
Happy Independence Day to all you Sons of Yankee Doodles!