The Star-Spangled Banner

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Assistant Band Director, Center, TX

 

O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming, 
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming? 
And the rocket's 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.  

Independence Day in the United States celebrates the anniversary of the date over two hundred years ago when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776). This document declared that the United States of America was its own entity and was no longer under British rule. The preserved document is on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom along with the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. Independence Day is annually celebrated with fireworks, concerts, parades, and the singing of the national anthem, the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

The lyrics for the national anthem were written by Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, in 1814. Key wrote the poem aboard a U.S. ship after witnessing the Battle of Baltimore on September 13, 1814. British forces attempted to penetrate the U.S. Fort McHenry for nearly twenty-five hours before admitting defeat. The poem, originally named “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” was later printed by the Baltimore Patriot newspaper and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Within weeks it had been circulated around the entire country. Over the next century, the song became an unofficial anthem for the United States military. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order stating that work should be performed at all official events. Fifteen years later, Congress passed a bill to make “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem of the United States. The bill was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover on March 3, 1931; nearly one hundred and twenty years after being written.

Key’s original work actually included four verses, although traditionally only the first verse is performed. The melody was taken from the English song “To Anacreon in Heaven” (popular in the 1700’s) by John Stafford Smith. The “Star-Spangled Banner” is approximately two minutes long and requires a vocalist with an impressive range. It is written in the time signature 3/4 in the key of Bb and begins with an anacrusis on beat three. Throughout the composition, the percussion section loudly simulates a battlefield with marching quarter notes and exploding cymbal crashes. During the playing of the national anthem, American citizens are expected to stand silently with their right hand over their heart; individuals associated with the United States military will salute the flag instead.

FUN FACT: The exact flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner” has been on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. since 2008.

 

Listen to a recording of the national anthem performed by The United States Marine Band

 

Sources

“1814: Key Pens Star Spangled Banner.” This Day in History. A & E Television Network. N.p.N.d.

          Web. 28 May 2017. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/key-pens-star-spangled-

          banner>

 

“Star-Spangled Banner and the War of 1812.” Smithsonian. The Star-Spangled Banner Project. 

          National Museum of American History, Behring Center. In cooperation with Public Inquiry

          Services. Smithsonian Institution. Web. 28 May 2017.

          <https://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmah/starflag.htm>

 

“The Story Behind the Star-Spangled Banner: How the flag that flew proudly over Fort McHenry

          inspired an anthem and made its way to the Smithsonian.” Lineberry, Cate. Smithsonian.

          Smithsonian Institution. 1 March 2007. Web. 28 May 2017.    

          <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-story-behind-the-star-spangled-banner-

          149220970/>

 

“9 Things You May Not Know About the Star-Spangled Banner.” History. A & E Television

          Network. N.p.N.d. Web 28 May 2017. <http://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-

          not-know-about-the-star-spangled-banner>

 

“July 4th.” History. A & E Television Network. N.p.N.d. Web. 28 May 2017.            

          <http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/july-4th>

 

“The Star-Spangled Banner Becomes Official.” History. A & E Television Network. N.p. N.d. Web

          6 June 2017. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-star-spangled-banner-

          becomes-official>