Every 4th of July, the town I live in has a huge fireworks display. A local radio station simultaneously broadcasts a collage of patriotic music and snippets of audio from famous American speeches and recordings. Among those are John Wayne reciting the Pledge of Allegiance followed by an excerpt of Elvis Presley singing “An American Trilogy.” It’s probably my favorite part of the presentation as I am a fan of both the Duke and the King.
I remember the first time I discovered that John Wayne had recorded an album. It was in the late 1970’s when I came upon the 1973 record “John Wayne: America, Why I Love Her,” in a music store. This was before the days of compact discs and iPods. It was even before cassette tapes began taking over as the preferred medium for audio recordings. I didn’t have any idea of what the content of the album would be like as I couldn’t quite imagine Duke singing. I had read that in some of his early westerns, they had tried to cast him as a singing cowboy, kind of like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers would later become. However, in the very few movies that Duke’s character sang, he lip-synched while someone else who could sing supplied the voice. Nevertheless, I was excited to hear the Duke’s offerings on his record so I paid the $8.00 and took it home.
The album contained ten recordings. I hesitate to call them songs even though each has music and several have backing vocals. Fortunately, though, Duke does recitations and does not attempt to present himself as a singer. Which makes each of the tracks that much more powerful. The tracks are: Why I Love Her, The Hyphen, Mis Raices Estan Aqui, The People, An American Boy Grows Up, Face The Flag, The Good Things, The Pledge Of Allegiance, Why Are You Marching, Son?, and Taps. Although each has some form of backing music, it is the Duke’s words that make each dramatic and touching. Almost every selection is a poetic tribute to some aspect of the greatness of America, from her natural beauty and wonders to the people and their sacrifices. The exception is, “The Hyphen.”
In ”The Hyphen“, Wayne presents the thesis that the hyphen is a divisive mark that needs to be avoided. Instead of looking at ourselves as African-Americans, Irish-Americans, or Italian-Americans, Duke said we should look at ourselves just as Americans. Although some might find this notion foreign, it actually relates to our national motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” out of many-one.
I have since obtained a copy of Duke’s album on cd and have put away the album for safe keeping. I listen to it every now and then-such as when our country is in trouble or we seem to have lost our way. Hearing Duke’s booming voice is reassuring and reminds me of what I love about our country. Unfortunately, due to the world we live in, I have had to listen to it more frequently in the past few years than any time since I bought it.