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Our National Anthem

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The star spangled banner!  John Stafford Smith and Francis Scott Key. Arranged by Henry Tucker. New York, Firth, Pond and Co., 1861.
The star spangled banner! John Stafford Smith and Francis Scott Key. Arranged by Henry Tucker. New York, Firth, Pond and Co., 1861.

On this date in 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed the Act establishing “The Star Spangled Banner” as the National Anthem of the United States of America.  The Library of Congress has in its collections a treasure trove of  sheet music (including a Spanish-language edition), song sheets (including two in German), and recordings of  “The Star Spangled Banner.” Read more about our National Anthem, and its roots in the “Anacreaontic Song” – which is not exactly, as legend has it, a drinking song – in the Patriotic Melodies presentation in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

Comments (9)

  1. Francis Scott Key wrote the words to “the Star Spangled Banner” while a prisoner on a British ship, watching the British bomb Fort McHenry in Baltimore, as every American schoolchild knows. It really happened–history. I am shocked and dismayed at the claim made in a Library of Congress article that our national anthem has “roots in the Anacreaontic song”. The same tunes were used for many different songs. Drinking song or not, this is very bad history. I first heard this bit of historical snipe nearly 40 years ago–but I never expected that an organization with a reputation for teaching history would not only repeat it, but add to it. This is a disgrace–and the Library of Congress should be ashamed of itself.

  2. “Francis Scott Key, who was tone deaf, composed the words but not the music to the “Star Spangeld Banner”. That music comes from “The Anacreontic song.” See See also The music of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’: from Ludgate Hill to Capitol Hill, by Lichtenwanger, William (Washington, D.C.: LC/GPO, 1977).

  3. Sorry, Ms. Burke, but history is history, facts are facts, and no one can change these fundamental truths. It is truly unfortunate that you have allowed your superegoistic jingoism to obscure both history and fact in your distorted view that the Library of Congress can do no right.

    Recently uncovered evidence seems to indicate that the tune of the SSB may actually be even older than the Anacreontic origin supposedly uncovered by Mr. Lichtenwanger. A claim has been made and possibly substantiated that the tune was written by a William McKeague of County Fermanagh, (Northern) Ireland, in 1750 as a regimental march for the Royal Inniskillings, and that Smith merely copied the tune down after hearing it. Given the fact that it is metrically identical to Turlough O Carolan’s “Bumper Squire Jones” of 1723, it now seems that the “missing link” between O Carolan (sometimes attributed as the composer of the SSB tune) and Smith has finally been discovered. Go to Google for further research.

  4. You folks are missing the point here. The melody, the tune, the music doesn’t matter. The beauty of the song….the reason it is our national anthem, is because of the words.
    As Mr.Lindquist pointed out history is history. History tells of how during the war of 1812 after having attacked and sacked the capitol the British brought 14 gunships to bear on the battery at Fort Mc Henry in Baltimore.
    Keye, a young lawyer who was not in fact a prisoner of war but had been offered safe passage aboard the British ship along with other American noncombatants, watched the battle from the quarterdeck of a gunship.
    The immortal words he wrote, the words that have echoed down through history were inspired by the fact that no matter what the British threw at the small beseiged fort, and they threw everything they had for twenty six hours, the brave defenders of the garrison never struck their colors…the flag was never lowered.
    Countless generations of American fighting men have risked their lives under that flag and their sacrifice has played out to that tune. Ask a veteran if he cares that the music was originally a drinking song and he will probably just laugh and tell you that only the words matter to him…those words that told of the bravery of a small handfull of men who stood off the world’s most powerful navy.

  5. I love the United States History!

  6. I saw something on the internet that said there were dance moves at one time associated with the Star Spangled Banner. Just trying to find out if it’s true or not.

  7. From the third stanza:

    “Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps pollution
    No refuge could save the hireling or slave
    from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”

    Can anyone explain this?

  8. The lack of refuge for hurlings and slaves is seen by many to refer to the fact that slave owners and the wealthy used paid and slave labor to support themselves and their units behind the lines. (Slaves weren’t allowed to fight.) Many people (myself included, and I am white) see no small amount of irony in the “extraness” of using slaves in the fight to keep themselves enslaved, as well as them being maimed or killed thereby.

    Add to this fact that escaped (to the north) slaves so used in the Confederate War effort were not freed but considered “contraband of war.”

    Lastly, having been adopted as our National Anthem in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression —when racism was reaching new levels of baseness in a NORTHERN centered call for all blacks to be fired until all whites had jobs—and it is easy to identify with people of color’s general feelings of ambivalence-to-animosity toward “The Star Spangled Banner” as THEIR National anthem.

    Adding the contextual facts about the writer, Francis Scott Keys, only exacerbates these feelings: he was a slaveholder, believed in deporting all blacks to Africa (he was a founding member of the group supporting this), and a lawyer who actively prosecuted abolitionists and was a fervent supporter of tough slave laws.

    These reasons help to explain that it’s not that black folks who don’t want to stand for this particular version of our National Anthem (only having been so named for less than 4 of 10 years of our history) “hate America,” it rather that they hate THAT Poem.

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