Widely known for his signature song of two names, “God Bless the U.S.A. (Proud to Be an American),” Lee Greenwood is no one-hit wonder. With seven No.1 country hits and a presidential induction into the National Council on the Arts, he’ll be celebrating 40 years of success at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead on Friday, December 3.
After nearly 20 years of playing the Las Vegas lounge revue scene, Greenwood was discovered in 1979 by Larry McFaden of MCA/Paramount, who became his manager. His first single, “It Turns Me Inside Out,” cracked top 20 on the 1981 country charts.
In 1984, Greenwood released the album You’ve Got a Good Love Comin’ which was mostly made up of romantic power ballads, but also included one now-famous patriotic number to add some variety. “I did not expect it to be played on radio,” he admits, remembering that it was the head of the record label who pushed for “God Bless the U.S.A.” to receive a single release. After reaching No.7 on the Billboard country chart, it began receiving widespread national attention. It has opened doors for Greenwood to perform at the 1984 Republican National Convention, at the White House, on the USS Nimitz in the Persian Gulf and at the Lincoln Memorial inauguration celebrations for Presidents George H. W. Bush and Donald Trump.
The song was even adapted into children’s book form, titled Proud to Be an American, and into the song “God Bless You Canada.” While an unpredictable smash hit, “God Bless the U.S.A.” is just one of Greenwood’s many successful tracks.
“Music is my life; it’s what I do,” he says. “I don’t rest on the laurels of ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ no matter how big it is in my life.”
Though he’s not as motivated to write new material these days, throughout his career, he was inspired by words: billboards, catch phrases, conversations and even other song lyrics. He would home in on one key thought or feeling and expand that into an original piece, using unexpected words to convey relatable ideas.
“The writing is like a child,” he says. “When you finish a song, you want to play it for everybody like, ‘Hey, look at my new child!’”
This mindset helped him earn two No.1 country hits from his 1983 album Somebody’s Gonna Love You, one for his 1985 cover of King Edward IV and the Knights’ “Dixie Road,” three more from that year’s studio album Streamline and one more from the 1986 album Love Will Find Its Way to You. In 1990, he nearly took the No.1 spot for the eighth time, with “Holdin’ a good Hand” peaking at no.2.
In 2008, President George W. Bush appointed Greenwood to the National Council of the Arts, a role which Greenwood considers an “important responsibility (because) culture is framed by our art.” He and other councilmembers were charged with the task of discovering artists of cultural validity to the U.S. and arranging grants to fund their art. While the position typically abides by a six-year term, the Senate has yet to accept a replacement nomination by President Joe Biden, allowing Greenwood to remain as one of the council’s longest members.
Now celebrating 40 years of hit songs, Greenwood is touring the country and stopping at numerous venues where he hopes to connect with fans from far and wide. “I would like to make sure that we touch base with our audience in New York,” he says ahead of his first-ever Suffolk Theater show. “I love performing onstage, love singing; it’s just something that thrills me, and I hope it resonates with the audience, as well.”
Though he’s new to Suffolk Theater, he’s no stranger to Long Island. In fact, he recently joined The Chainsmokers, Journey, Wyclef Jean, Flo Rida and other big acts at Jones Beach for a concert to benefit the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which build smart homes for injured veterans, among other programs. Similarly, Greenwood works closely with HelpingAHero.org, which provides specially adapted homes to injured vets.
While he’s no one hit wonder, Greenwood admits that going to any concert and not hearing that one song, can certainly be disappointing (for him, Sting’s “Desert Rose” comes to mind). So Suffolk Theater fans can expect “God Bless the U.S.A.” as well as the “majority of the hits that brought us to radio and enhanced my career,” he shares. No medleys though — he’s learned that the fans want the full experience of their favorite track, not a soundbite.
For tickets to Lee Greenwood’s show at the Suffolk Theater on December 3 at 7 p.m., visit suffolktheater.com. And to discover more of Greenwood’s project, such as his God Bless the U.S.A. Bible and Soldier Valley Spirits whiskey, visit leegreenwood.com.