Since the middle of the 19th century, Americans purchased pianos in increasing numbers. Families and friends gathered around the piano for evenings of musical fun. Piano players needed sheet music to learn the latest songs and publishers quickly printed everyone's favorite pieces, first in black and white and later with detailed chromolithographed color covers. The advent of radio and even television simply increased public awareness of hit songs, and the production of sheet music still grew. Eventually, use of sheet music lessened along with the popularity of home pianos in the middle and later 20th century. Radio, phonographs, and personal listening devices began to replace the piano in the parlor.
"God Bless America" is a patriotic song originally written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and revised in 1938. The song was originally intended for the revue "Yip Yip Yaphank," but Berlin decided not to use it and shelved the song until the rise of Adolph Hitler in 1938. Berlin made some minor alterations, such as guiding the country "through the night" instead of "from the right," which could have been mistaken as a reference to the political right. The song was introduced on Armistice Day in 1938 by Kate Smith, accompanied by a full orchestra. This version includes a little-known introduction to the song, ""While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free / Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer."
Following the September 11 attacks, "God Bless America" became more popular than ever. The song is often played during the seventh-inning stretch of Major League Baseball games, as well as by several National Hockey League teams and at the Indianapolis 500. On July 21, 2011, Kate Smith's version of the song was used as the final wake-up call for the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis.