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Hear American Anthem, the patriotic song Biden quoted during inauguration

The lyrics from Gene Scheer's contemplative song anchored an address focused on unifying a divided country.

President Biden quoted Gene Scheer's American Anthem in his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2021.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Music -- from Lady Gaga's national anthem to Jennifer Lopez's medley and Garth Brooks' Amazing Grace -- was an enduring theme during President Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony on Wednesday. His inaugural address included a quote from "a song that means a lot to me." That song is American Anthem by Gene Scheer.

Biden quoted the lyrics, "the work and prayers of centuries/have brought us to this day/what shall be our legacy/what will our children say/let me know in my heart/when my days are through/America, America/I gave my best to you."

The song lyrics anchored a speech focused on unifying a divided country that just a couple of weeks ago witnessed a violent riot in support of former President Donald Trump within its Capitol building in Washington, DC. 

Norah Jones recorded a stripped-down, piano-backed version of American Anthem as the theme song to documentarian Ken Burn's miniseries The War. The War explored the US involvement in World War II. You can hear it below. 

Scheer, an American songwriter, composer and operatic librettist, wrote American Anthem in 1998 and it's been performed at government events dating back to Bill Clinton's presidency. It doesn't have the name recognition of long-time standards like America the Beautiful or This Land is Your Land, but Biden's inclusion of the song in his speech should raise its profile in the canon of patriotic music.

Scheer's lyrics are contemplative, drawing on the concepts of American generations, quiet heroism and legacy. It was a fitting choice for Biden's first day in office and his message of togetherness in a time of crisis.