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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Some Things You Might Not Know About the Star Spangled Banner

Since the Star Spangled Banner is in the news I did some research and here are some things that surprised me. Francis Scott Key was  a 35 year old lawyer and amateur poet on a prisoner exchange mission when he went aboard a British ship and was taken prisoner. It is from this vantage point he observed the shelling of Ft McHenry and in the darkness could not tell if the fort had fallen. In the dawns early light he saw the American flag and jotted down a poem on the back of an envelope. He was released and finished the poem in a Baltimore hotel and called it Defense of Ft. Henry. He then gave the song to his brother in law who set it to the melody of  The Anacrenotic Song.

The song was printed in The Baltimore Patriot and became popular. The first time it was actually sung was in a tavern. Woodrow Wilson in 1918 tasked the US Dept of Education with coming up with an official version. He would later order it played at military occasions. The song was known as notoriously hard to sing with its wide range. It was not sung at a ball game until 1918. Congress voted it down the same year as the official National Anthem.  Six different bills were introduced over the next ten years to designate the Banner as our national anthem. It was voted down every time. The original middle lyrics reference slaves fighting for the British against the Americans. A stanza was taken out during World War I because of its anti British tone. A stanza was added during the Civil War.

Five million people signed a petition in 1930 for the Star Spangled Banner to become the United States National Anthem. Several men had to sing it for the United States Judiciary Committee because Senators thought it was too high pitched for the average person to sing. After they finished they sent the bill to the House of Representatives .The Senate passed the bill in 1931 and Herbert Hoover signed it into law.

O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Books by William Hazelgrove