He wrote it in the back of his tour bus more than three decades ago and, on July 4, the song most likely will be played hundreds of times at celebrations. It is a patriotic country anthem that still wells tears and American pride.
The song he scratched out on his bus was "God Bless the USA," and it went beyond what Lee Greenwood expected. It has been voted the most recognizable patriotic song in America. It's been in the top five on the country singles charts on three occasions, making it the only song across all music genres to reach this pinnacle.
And now, the iconic verses dance across his new children's book, "Proud to be an American," along with colorful and playful illustrations. At noon on Tuesday, July 7, Greenwood will host a book signing for the book, which already tops three Amazon charts, at Books A Million in Mt. Juliet. It's a fitting date, just a few days after Independence Day.
"While the song 'God Bless the USA' doesn't totally define my career, it is the umbrella of my career," Greenwood said this week from Orlando, Fla.
He started playing piano at age seven and the saxophone at 12. As a preteen, he started his first group, the Moonbeams, and even skipped his high school graduation ceremony to work at a Nevada hotel and casino with then-band The Apollos.
He knows first-hand the challenges families feel when their loved ones are fighting for Americans' freedom. His dad served in the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marines in World War II. He said "USA" is played in a Dept. of Homeland Security film shown when new citizens are sworn into the United States.
"'USA' is the song I always felt the need to write," Greenwood said. "I wanted to have something that would unite Americans from coast to coast and to instill pride back in the United States. The song represents family, my community and those men and women who have paid the price for the freedoms we all love and enjoy."
And people certainly do. The song hit a chord when patriotism was waning. It was again No. 1 on the pop charts just after 9/11, and the Millennial generation has rediscovered it with Beyoncé's 2011 version. Her proceeds go to the 9/11 Firefighters Fund in New York City. It's also be sang and danced to on Fox Network's "American Idol" and ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Now, according to Greenwood, the song - and all it means - will be rediscovered by the latest generation of youth with "Proud to be an American." In its foreword, Greenwood wrote, "Growing up on my grandparents' farm in California gave me an appreciation for folks who worked hard and got by on very little.
"The saving grace was that I didn't know we had very little."
He said his grandparents lost that farm because government regulations prevented them from farming the more profitable fields.
"But, they didn't question why it happened; they just started a new business," he said. "They trusted that America would hold true to the promise that freedom gives you choices."
He said the book is "meant to reinforce the same patriotism and optimism in our children and grandchildren I felt as a young boy."
At a media tour in New York City last week, Greenwood said after more than 30 years of singing "God Bless the USA" he's watched his song passed down to three generations.
"Given the unrest in America today, and the U.S. having to defend its very existence with much of the world, I felt it was time to give the next generation something to hold and read that tells in a very simple way why it's good to be an American and why we should be proud of it," Greenwood said.
The book includes a free download for a re-recorded version of "God Bless the USA," and the illustrations are by Amanda Sekulow. Some of the images depict American soldiers, Arlington National Cemetery, farmlands and cityscapes.
"The illustrations in my book paint in a childlike way, a picture of this country in colorful snapshots that teach geography, pinpoints the cities that they soon will know and visit and show on several pages the servicemen and women that we honor," he explained.
Greenwood recently appeared on Fox News' "Hannity," and he will perform live today as part of the Fox and Friends All-American Summer Concert Series to kick off the Fourth of July weekend.
Greenwood's latest CD is entitled "I Want To Be in Your World." Though on the road a lot, he lives in Franklin with his wife, Kimberly, a former Miss Tennessee. They were married in 1992 and have two sons. He said he has fond memories of reading to his children.
"Reading to my own children when they were young was a way for my wife and I to hold them close and bond with them while teaching them all they needed to know about life," Greenwood said. "It's my sincere hope that this book will become an educational tool for all parents, grandparents and even teachers at schools throughout the U.S. to help teach the lessons of patriotism at an early age."
Writer Laurie Everett can be contacted at email@example.com.