In the spring of 1984, Lee Greenwood released a song that would forever shape his career and become an American anthem.
“The first time I put it onstage, I recognized that we touched the heart of America,” Greenwood said of “God Bless the USA.” “And it just got momentum like I had never had a song before.”
The patriotic song also touched the heart of the country music community, many of whom still love it to this day.
“It’s just honest,” Martina McBride told CMT Hot 20 Countdown . “I mean, you say, ‘I’m proud to be an American.’ It’s so emotional, that lyric. It’s so powerful, and the way he sings it and the melody tied in with that lyric, we all feel it.”
“At that time, everybody was just feeling so patriotic,” Dolly Parton recalled. “And I think about all the different things that have happened through the years — the tragedies and our greatness and our soldiers. I think it’s just one of those songs that’s just so great. It’s a classic.”
By the time Lady Antebellum got to Nashville, the song and Greenwood himself were already American icons. Late one night, Lady A’s Charles Kelley got the Music City welcome he would remember for years to come.
“When I first moved to Nashville — I mean, this had to have been one of the first two weeks of moving to Nashville — my girlfriend at the time came up to see me,” Kelley recalled. “And we were in Waffle House, and I guess it was near the Fourth of July. I walked over to the jukebox, and I put in a couple quarters and was like, ‘Hmm, “God Bless the USA.”‘ And I played it, and I was like, ‘God, this song never gets old.’
“And I remember me just talking about this, and this boy comes over and he goes, ‘That’s my daddy. That’s him.’ And Lee Greenwood was right there. I played the song, and he’s right there, and I’m talking about it. He had to have probably thought I knew he was there and I wanted him to say ‘Hey,’ you know? But, it was like … what are the chances?
“And so I’m going, ‘Welcome to Nashville, Charles.’ Lee Greenwood, ‘God Bless the USA.'”
For more, tune in to CMT Hot 20 Countdown this Saturday and Sunday (July 5-6) at 11 a.m. ET/PT.