Patriotic songs inspire civic pride and nationalism while simultaneously fostering a national identity. So, when we include patriotic songs in funeral services, such as the ones below, for veterans and public servants, it's like saying that they, too, are part of the fabric of the nation.
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Any funeral song you choose will set the tone and feel of the service for your loved one. For formal services in a church or similar place, you'll probably look past the raucous sounds of a few listed here. However, if the service is informal and you're fulfilling the wishes of your loved one, then look below for some inspiration.
Virtual funeral tip: Pandemics, illness, and other issues can cause guests to miss a traditional funeral. You can allow faraway guests to attend by hosting a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs. If you do, make sure to test your microphones and speakers before the event so your music comes through loud and clear.
Popular Patriotic Songs Fit for a Funeral
If some of the songs below are not suitable for a formal funeral service with the original singer and musical instruments, try to find them in sheet music for a piano or violin.
1. “Arlington” by Trace Adkins
Adkins' song comes to us from the deceased soldier's perspective who gave his life to defend freedom and this country. He knows he's in Arlington cemetery, surrounded by “good company” and that it was placed he once visited to look for his grandfather's cross.
2. “I Drive Your Truck” by Lee Brice
The song, "I Drive Your Truck," was inspired by a father who lost his son in Afghanistan. Sgt. Jared C. Monti of the US Army left behind grieving parents and a father who'd hop in his son's vehicle just because it holds memories of him.
3. “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith
This song would be considered inappropriate in a solemn Catholic mass. However, if you have a memorial service that can get a little rowdy, check out Toby Keith's song. Besides, if the Marine Corps Commandant's top brass liked it, it'll be a welcome addition for any patriot.
4. “Soldier’s Last Letter” by Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard is one of the most well-known country singers globally, gaining notoriety in the 70s for resisting the typical genres of the time. Much like the rest of his music, a "Soldier's Last Letter" is easy and mellow.
5. “The William Tell Overture” by Gioacchino Rossini
The full version of “The William Tell Overture” is a lengthy 12-minute song, but most people know it by the last few minutes alone when booming trumpets and visions of the Lone Ranger emerge. However, if you listen to it in its entirety, you’ll be surprised at the beauty and elegance.
Consider using the song in a funeral slideshow for a loved one who appreciated Texas Ranger-style law and order.
6. “Amazing Grace” by Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
Likely, you already have an impression of the best funeral songs as a patriotic tribute. But, check out this rendition of “Amazing Grace,” played by the famous Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. The bagpipe playing will hold your attention from beginning to end.
7. “Hawai’i Pono’i” by King David Kalākaua
"The merry monarch" King David Kalākaua penned this song, and in 1967 it was adapted by the Hawai'i State Legislature as the state anthem. That makes "Hawai'i Pono'i" a suitable piece for any public servant in our 50th state.
8. “Ashokan Farewell” by Evan Stover, Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, Russ Barenberg
Here’s a beautiful Civil War era song that would be suitable at a funeral for any public servant or veteran. While it’s not categorically a patriotic song, you can’t help but think of this timeframe in American history and its impact on our lives as a result.
9. “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Abyssinian Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir
Throughout the years, there've been many versions of this song. But as a funeral song, the acapella choir may be most fitting to the service. If your church has an available ensemble, you may want to ask them to skip the instruments altogether.
10. “Hark to the Echoes” by The O’Neill Brothers
This sibling recording team hails from Minnesota and has been recording music together for over twenty years. Their song, "Hark to the Echoes," would be a fitting song at a funeral service as it's just a piano and clarinet carrying the tune.
11. “America, My Country Tis’ of Thee”
When played alone on a piano, this song takes on a new personality. It shows that without vocals, almost any patriotic music would be considered proper at a funeral.
12. “Chester” by William Billings
"Chester" was written as a Revolutionary song. And most people are familiar with the revised version that was published in 1778. Here are a few lines from it:
“What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev’ry Chord.”
13. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson
Johnson's poem was written in honor of Abraham Lincoln and later became a song. Since then, the NAACP adopted it as its official song, and the African American Civil Rights Movement even refers to it as the Black National Anthem.
14. “Abraham, Martin and John” by Dion
Dion’s song is a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy—men who died fighting for civil rights. Here are just a few lines from this super mellow song:
“Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?”
Common Military Funeral Songs
Many family members request a full military funeral service for a veteran loved one, including flags, salutes, military, or patriotic songs. However, some veterans’ wishes include a less formal service. In their case, look for some adaptations of the pieces below to preserve their service's essence minus the formalities.
Tip: Creating a funeral playlist might be just one of the tasks you're undertaking for the very first time after the loss of a loved one. Our post-loss checklist can help you navigate the intricacies of loss.
15. “Taps” by USMC Drum and Bugle Corps
Honors for K9s are similar to police funerals. The full ceremony will include the song "Taps" as well as an Honor Guard, speakers, pallbearers, flags, and a 21-gun salute. As a member of the K9 unit, full burial honors are their right and privilege.
16. “Eternal Father” by Naval Academy Glee Club
"Eternal Father," the Navy Anthem, is played at funerals and memorial events such as Pearl Harbor Memorial Day, annually observed on December 7th. Want to learn more about Pearl Harbor? Read our guide on the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
17. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa
Because Sousa's 1896 composition is so upbeat, it's often played on celebration days like July 4th. However, because it's the national march song, it's suitable for any military funeral.
18. “Wild Blue Yonder” by U.S. Heritage of America Band
A committee of Air Force wives chose Robert MacArthur Crawford's piece from 757 entries as the winner of a contest put on by Liberty Magazine in 1938.
19. “The Marine’s Hymn” by United States Marine Band
The original composer of the "Marine's Hymn" is the well-known Jacques Offenbach. However, authorship is only traceable in part to Colonel Henry C. Davis. Still, the lyrics reflect Marine pride and values, including a few of their most famous campaigns.
20. “Semper Paratus” by United States Coast Guard Band
Captain Francis Saltus Van Boskerck began writing the words to Semper Paratus or “Always Ready” in 1922, followed by the music for those words in 1927.
This official U.S. Coast Guard marching song has undergone some verse rewrites over the years, but much has remained the same.
21. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by William Steffe
With the help of The Saint Charles Borromeo Choir, Andy Williams' version of this song brings down its cadence and gives it more of a gospel feel. For almost half of the song, you'll only hear his voice in acapella. After, the choir and instruments chime in.
22. “El Capitan” by John Philip Sousa
The Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute have preserved copies of recordings available in digital form. Although “El Capitan” is scratchy like any old record would be, it’ll give you a sense of being “there.”
23. “America, the Beautiful” by Ray Charles
Katharine Lee Bates penned "America, the Beautiful" in 1893 initially. Samuel Ward later adapted the poem into a song. And although many people have recorded this song, Ray Charles’s version is full of deep, resonating soul.
25. “The Army Goes Rolling Along” by Brigadier General Edmund Louis "Snitz" Gruber
Like the Air Force, the Army held a contest for their official anthem, but this time, a group of commanders, not military spouses, answered the call. Together and with an overwhelming majority, they chose Gruber's piece.
The U.S. Army Field Band’s rendition makes a beautiful choice to honor your loved one.
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Veterans and Public Servants are the Fabric of the Nation
Songs have always helped us express emotions, but it's the patriotic song that encourages us to work together towards a common goal for our country. Most importantly, by playing this music for someone who was either a veteran or a public servant, we honor their sacrifices to live a life of freedom because of them.
- Forman, MSgt P. (2007, January 29). History of the U.S. Air Force Song. www.hill.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/397525/history-of-the-us-air-force-song/
- Hawai'i Pono'i is the Hawaii State Anthem. (2020, June 02). www.lovebigisland.com/hawaii-blog/hawaii-state-anthem/
- Kennedy MC, Guerrini SC. Patriotism, nationalism, and national identity in music education: ‘O Canada,’ how well do we know thee? International Journal of Music Education. 2013;31(1):78-90. doi:10.1177/0255761411433722
- Limbong, A. (2018, July 04). One Song Glory. www.npr.org/2018/07/04/625351953/one-song-glory
- Marines' Hymn. (n.d.). www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000011/
- Noe, K. (n.d.). America, the Beautiful: 1893. bensguide.gpo.gov/j-america-beautiful
- Noe, K. (n.d.). Stars and Stripes Forever: 1896. bensguide.gpo.gov/stars-and-stripes-forever-1896
- USCG Historian’s Office. (n.d.). Semper Paratus (Always Ready) The Official Coast Guard Marching Song. www.history.uscg.mil/Browse-by-Topic/History-Heritage-Traditions/Semper-Paratus/
- Songfacts. (n.d.). www.songfacts.com/facts/queen-liliuokalani/aloha-oe
- Sousa's Patriotic Music. (n.d.). www.pbs.org/a-capitol-fourth/history/patriotic-music/
- The Army Goes Rolling Along. (n.d.). www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000019/