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Of all the songs President Joe Biden might have quoted during his inaugural address on Wednesday, a song that many people know as a Norah Jones track from a Ken Burns documentary might not have been the first guess.

The song, “American Anthem,” was written by songwriter Gene Scheer and was first sung by Denyce Graves in 1998 for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at the Smithsonian Institution during the launch of the “Save America’s Treasures” initiative. It was subsequently performed at other ceremonies, was covered by Patti Labelle and sung by Graves at George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration; its performance today may tie in with Biden’s unity theme.

Jones’ version dates from 2007 and was featured in “The War,” Burns’ documentary about World War II. Written by Gene Scheer,” it’s an outlier in Jones’ extensive catalog, featured on none of her albums and only available on the series’ soundtrack album. According to the album’s notes on Legacy Records’ website, the song was recorded in December 2006 especially for the film, Jones’ piano-and-vocal rendition “became an emotional centerpiece for the documentary.”

Norah Jones said In a statement after the ceremony on Wednesday: “Hearing President Biden share those familiar lyrics was deeply moving. ‘American Anthem’ is a beautiful and meaningful song that resonates with so many people. I was honored to be asked to sing the song, written by Gene Scheer, for Ken Burns’ documentary, ’The War’.”

The song’s lyrics appear in full below.

It was released five years after Jones rose quickly from the New York singer-songwriter scene and burst into the national consciousness with her blockbuster debut album, “Come Away With Me,” which won a whopping eight Grammy Awards in 2003. In the years since, Jones has not replicated that album’s success nor has she really tried to, choosing instead to have a less hit-driven but still strong and consistent career, releasing eight studio albums, with her most recent being “Pick Me Up Off the Floor” in June 2020.

Of “The War,” Variety wrote in its 2007 review: “A monumental undertaking filled with moments of tremendous poignancy, ‘The War reps Ken Burns’ return to the battlefield, and he comes away with a major victory for PBS, albeit in a production lacking the thrill of discovery and freshness that distinguished its predecessor, ‘The Civil War.’ Methodically documenting World War II’s progression chronologically through the experiences of those in four geographically spaced towns, ‘The War’ captures both the sweeping impact of a conflict that inexorably changed the world and the hardships endured by those who fought the battle at home as well as abroad.”

 

All we’ve been given

By those who came before

The dream of a nation

Where freedom would endure

The work and prayers

Of centuries

Have brought us to this day

What shall be our legacy?

What will our children say?

Let them say of me

I was one who believed

In sharing the blessings

I received

Let me know in my heart

When my days are through

America

America

I gave my best to you

Each generation from the plains

To distant shore with the gifts

What they were given

Were determined

To leave more

Valiant battles fought together

acts of conscience fought alone

these are the seeds

From which America has grown

Let them say of me

I was one who believed

In sharing the blessings

I received

Let me know in my heart

When my days are through

America

America

I gave my best to you

For those who think

They have nothing to share

Who fear in their hearts

There is no hero there

Know each quiet act

Of dignity is

That which fortifies

The soul of a nation

That never dies

Let them say of me

I was one who believed

In sharing the blessings

I received

Let me know in my heart

When my days are through

America

America

I gave my best to you