National Anthem Is 200 Years Old: Sing The Song as It Was Written!


Star-Spangled Banner canstockphoto1610718

Star-Spangled Banner


This year marks the 200th anniversary of the momentous occasion when Francis Scott Key wrote the poem entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry” that would eventually be put to music and become the fledgling United States of America’s National Anthem, better known as the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

I have often waxed philosophically in this blog about how important music is to us all; how a song from years ago continues to delve up memories each time we hear it.  The Star-Spangled Banner should stir these guttural and involuntary memories for all Americans because it was forged, literally, in the blood and bravery of our ancestors.

However, I fear that these synaptic memory cues simply do not exist for far too many Americans because they don’t know the origin of the song. As a result, they don’t recognize the very real and historic importance of the red, white and blue “star-spangled banner” that we know as the American flag, or of the song that goes with it.

Over the years I have heard the National Anthem sung in such ways as to make it virtually indistinguishable from the original song.  As an amateur musician I fully appreciate stylizing music to individual taste and singing ability; but there are some songs so sacrosanct that it should never stray too far from the original. If you can’t sing the song the way it was written, then leave it to someone who can.

 A society who fails to learn and heed the lessons of their history are doomed to repeat it, so I’d like to briefly describe the circumstances surrounding the birth of the anthem and hope it goes viral.  I don’t consider myself a historian, but I try to learn and understand history, so I will try to summarize what was a difficult and confusing time in U.S. history.

The Star-Spangled Banner was written during the 32-month military conflict between the United States and Britain known as the War of 1812, aka the Second Revolutionary War.  The war’s outcome essentially resolved many of the issues left over from the original war of independence the upstart U.S. waged in 1775 against its colonial ruler Great Britain.

In September 1814, 35-year old lawyer and amateur American poet Francis Scott Key was on board the British ship HMS Minden, where he was being held captive. He had come under a flag of truce with John Stuart Skinner on a mission, a proposed prisoner exchange, directed by U.S. President James Madison. 

One of the prisoners was Key’s friend Dr. William Beanes, who had been accused of aiding in the arrest of British soldiers. Beanes was elderly and was a popular town physician from Upper Marlboro, Md. 

Key and Skinner initially went aboard the HMS Tonnant on September 7, 1814 to speak with British officers about the prisoner exchange.  However, in the course of their discussions, they also overheard British plans to attack Baltimore and bombard the U.S. Ft. McHenry, which guarded the channel entering the Baltimore Harbor. 

Consequently, they were held captive and eventually transferred to the HMS Minden, where they helplessly watched the bombardment of Ft. McHenry.

Ft. McHenry was built with the walls in a five-point star design between 1799 and 1802 to protect Baltimore.  It actually continued that role through WWII and today is a national historic landmark.

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