The Star-Spangled Banner

"The Star-Spangled Banner"
The Star-Spangled Banner.JPG
The earliest surviving sheet music of "The Star-Spangled Banner", from 1814.

National anthem of the  United States
LyricsFrancis Scott Key, 1814
MusicJohn Stafford Smith, c. 1773
AdoptedMarch 3, 1931 (1931-03-03)[1]
Audio sample
"The Star-Spangled Banner" (instrumental, one stanza)

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics come from the Defence of Fort M'Henry,[2] a poem written on September 14, 1814, by the then 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory.

The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. "To Anacreon in Heaven" (or "The Anacreontic Song"), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. This setting, renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", soon became a well-known U.S. patriotic song. With a range of 19 semitones, it is known for being very difficult to sing. Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at § 301), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of U.S. officialdom. "Hail, Columbia" served this purpose at official functions for most of the 19th century. "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", whose melody is identical to "God Save the Queen", the United Kingdom's national anthem,[3] also served as a de facto national anthem.[4] Following the War of 1812 and subsequent U.S. wars, other songs emerged to compete for popularity at public events, among them "America the Beautiful", which itself was being considered before 1931, as a candidate to become the national anthem of the United States.[5]

Early history

Francis Scott Key's lyrics

Francis Scott Key's original manuscript copy of his "Defence of Fort M'Henry" poem. It is now on display at the Maryland Historical Society.

On September 3, 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure an exchange of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro and a friend of Key's who had been captured in his home. Beanes was accused of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.

Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise and later back on HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city's last line of defense.

An artist's rendering of the battle at Fort McHenry

During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort's smaller "storm flag" continued to fly, but once the shell and Congreve rocket[6] barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. On the morning of September 14, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised.

During the bombardment, HMS Terror and HMS Meteor provided some of the "bombs bursting in air".

The 15-star, 15-stripe "Star-Spangled Banner" that inspired the poem

Key was inspired by the U.S. victory and the sight of the large U.S. flag flying triumphantly above the fort. This flag, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, had been made by Mary Young Pickersgill together with other workers in her home on Baltimore's Pratt Street. The flag later came to be known as the Star-Spangled Banner and is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a treasure of the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored in 1914 by Amelia Fowler, and again in 1998 as part of an ongoing conservation program.

Aboard the ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on September 16, he and Skinner were released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and titled it "Defence of Fort M'Henry". It was first published nationally in The Analectic Magazine.[7][8]

Much of the idea of the poem, including the flag imagery and some of the wording, is derived from an earlier song by Key, also set to the tune of "The Anacreontic Song". The song, known as "When the Warrior Returns",[9] was written in honor of Stephen Decatur and Charles Stewart on their return from the First Barbary War.

Absent elaboration by Francis Scott Key prior to his death in 1843, some have speculated more recently about the meaning of phrases or verses, particularly the phrase "the hireling and slave" from the third stanza. According to British historian Robin Blackburn, the phrase allude to the thousands of ex-slaves in the British ranks organized as the Corps of Colonial Marines, who had been liberated by the British and demanded to be placed in the battle line "where they might expect to meet their former masters."[10] Mark Clague, a professor of musicology at the University of Michigan, argues that the "middle two verses of Key's lyric vilify the British enemy in the War of 1812" and "in no way glorifies or celebrates slavery."[11] Clague writes that "For Key ... the British mercenaries were scoundrels and the Colonial Marines were traitors who threatened to spark a national insurrection."[11] This harshly anti-British nature of Verse 3 led to its omission in sheet music in World War I, when the British and the U.S. were allies.[11] Responding to the assertion of writer Jon Schwarz of The Intercept that the song is a "celebration of slavery,"[12] Clague said that: "The reference to slaves is about the use and in some sense the manipulation, of black Americans to fight for the British, with the promise of freedom. The American forces included African-Americans as well as whites. The term 'freemen,' whose heroism is celebrated in the fourth stanza, would have encompassed both."[13]

Others suggest that "Key may have intended the phrase as a reference to the British Navy's practice of impressment (kidnapping sailors and forcing them to fight in defense of the crown), or as a semi-metaphorical slap at the British invading force as a whole (which also included a large number of mercenaries)."[14]

John Stafford Smith's music

Sheet music version About this soundPlay 

Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law Joseph H. Nicholson who saw that the words fit the popular melody "The Anacreontic Song", by English composer John Stafford Smith. This was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen's club of amateur musicians in London. Nicholson took the poem to a printer in Baltimore, who anonymously made the first known broadside printing on September 17; of these, two known copies survive.

On September 20, both the Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the song, with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven". The song quickly became popular, with seventeen newspapers from Georgia to New Hampshire printing it. Soon after, Thomas Carr of the Carr Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together under the title "The Star Spangled Banner", although it was originally called "Defence of Fort M'Henry". Thomas Carr's arrangement introduced the raised fourth which became the standard deviation from "The Anacreontic Song".[15] The song's popularity increased and its first public performance took place in October when Baltimore actor Ferdinand Durang sang it at Captain McCauley's tavern. Washington Irving, then editor of the Analectic Magazine in Philadelphia, reprinted the song in November 1814.

By the early 20th century, there were various versions of the song in popular use. Seeking a singular, standard version, President Woodrow Wilson tasked the U.S. Bureau of Education with providing that official version. In response, the Bureau enlisted the help of five musicians to agree upon an arrangement. Those musicians were Walter Damrosch, Will Earhart, Arnold J. Gantvoort, Oscar Sonneck and John Philip Sousa. The standardized version that was voted upon by these five musicians premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 5, 1917, in a program that included Edward Elgar's Carillon and Gabriel Pierné's The Children's Crusade. The concert was put on by the Oratorio Society of New York and conducted by Walter Damrosch.[16] An official handwritten version of the final votes of these five men has been found and shows all five men's votes tallied, measure by measure.[17]

National anthem

Commemorative plaque in Washington, D.C. marking the site at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue where "The Star-Spangled Banner" was first publicly sung
One of two surviving copies of the 1814 broadside printing of the "Defence of Fort M'Henry", a poem that later became the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner", the national anthem of the United States.

The song gained popularity throughout the 19th century and bands played it during public events, such as Independence Day celebrations.

A plaque displayed at Fort Meade, South Dakota, claims that the idea of making "The Star Spangled Banner" the national anthem began on their parade ground in 1892. Colonel Caleb Carlton, Post Commander, established the tradition that the song be played "at retreat and at the close of parades and concerts." Carlton explained the custom to Governor Sheldon of South Dakota who "promised me that he would try to have the custom established among the state militia." Carlton wrote that after a similar discussion, Secretary of War, Daniel E. Lamont issued an order that it "be played at every Army post every evening at retreat."[18]

In 1899, the U.S. Navy officially adopted "The Star-Spangled Banner".[19] In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at military[19] and other appropriate occasions. The playing of the song two years later during the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, and thereafter during each game of the series is often cited as the first instance that the anthem was played at a baseball game,[20] though evidence shows that the "Star-Spangled Banner" was performed as early as 1897 at opening day ceremonies in Philadelphia and then more regularly at the Polo Grounds in New York City beginning in 1898. In any case, the tradition of performing the national anthem before every baseball game began in World War II.[21]

On April 10, 1918, John Charles Linthicum, U.S. Congressman from Maryland, introduced a bill to officially recognize "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem.[22] The bill did not pass.[22] On April 15, 1929, Linthicum introduced the bill again, his sixth time doing so.[22] On November 3, 1929, Robert Ripley drew a panel in his syndicated cartoon, Ripley's Believe it or Not!, saying "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem".[23]

In 1930, Veterans of Foreign Wars started a petition for the United States to officially recognize "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem.[24] Five million people signed the petition.[24] The petition was presented to the United States House Committee on the Judiciary on January 31, 1930.[25] On the same day, Elsie Jorss-Reilley and Grace Evelyn Boudlin sang the song to the Committee to refute the perception that it was too high pitched for a typical person to sing.[26] The Committee voted in favor of sending the bill to the House floor for a vote.[27] The House of Representatives passed the bill later that year.[28] The Senate passed the bill on March 3, 1931.[28] President Herbert Hoover signed the bill on March 4, 1931, officially adopting "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem of the United States of America.[1] As currently codified, the United States Code states that "[t]he composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem."[29] Although the National Anthem officially comprises all four stanzas of the poem, only the first stanza is generally sung, and the other three are much lesser-known.

Other Languages
беларуская: Гімн ЗША
български: Химн на САЩ
한국어: 미국의 국가
Bahasa Indonesia: The Star-Spangled Banner
latviešu: ASV himna
Lëtzebuergesch: The Star-Spangled Banner
lietuvių: JAV himnas
македонски: Химна на САД
русский: Гимн США
Simple English: The Star-Spangled Banner
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: The Star-Spangled Banner
Tiếng Việt: The Star-Spangled Banner
粵語: 星條旗