Francis Scott Key at the Bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore wrote lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner
In our popular culture, Francis Scott Key receives most of the credit for “writing” the Star Spangled Banner.However, the extent of his contribution were the lyrics he started writing after being released from the British ship HMS Tonnant on September 14th, 1814, which he finished two days later in Baltimore. The melody “To Anacreon in Heaven” is, ironically, attributed to an Englishman, John Stafford Smith from around 1770.Smith, and the original lyricist, Ralph Tomlinson were both members of the Anacreon Society, a gentlemen’s social club, dedicated “to wit, harmony and the god of wine”.
Francis Scott Key had written previous, less patriotic lyrics to this same tune, as had scores of other lyricists.It was a common practice in the days before copyright laws and the monetization of music to adopt a popular tune for a new set of lyrics.Just think of “Greensleeves” and the Christmas carol “What Babe is This?”.
Key didn’t even originate the title of the song! Thomas Carr, a music publisher at 36 Baltimore Street gave the song its title when he printed sheet music in October, 1814.Adding more of the same irony to the story, Carr was another Englishman, who had been publishing music in London when Maryland was still a colony!Key’s original title was “The Defence (sic) of Fort M’Henry”
“Broadsheets” were like twitter versions of sheet music in the early 19th Century; printed by newspapers. The entire song was on a single large lyric sheet.They were distributed on the street to passers by sometimes with a newspaper.The Star Spangled Banner was both popular music and a dramatic eyewitness retelling of an important news story.Carr took all the steps necessary to publicize and promote the patriotic song by a Washington D.C. attorney who was raised in Baltimore.The popularity of the tune “Anacreon in Heaven” was in itself an important ingredient in the way the Star Spangled Banner gained popularity.Before long, many newspapers got into the act, publishing Key’s lyrics in 9 of the 18 states in the country.
The song had three more stanzas beyond the one we sing before sporting events:
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave
These were the lyrics that damaged Key’s legacy during the Black Lives Matter movement.Key was a slaveholder, so the repeated tag line about “the home of the free” was offensive enough. The third stanza was particularly bad, referring to American slaves who defected and took up arms against their former owners. In 2017, Key’s legacy was besmirched by protesters who spray painted “racist anthem” on his memorial at Eutaw Place in Baltimore, not far from Route 1 on North St.
By 1899, the US Navy used the Star Spangled Banner to mark special occasions, and by 1916, Woodrow Wilson ordered the entire military to adopt the song.In 1918, it was played for the 7th inning stretch at the World Series. In April that year, when The Star Spangled Banner was officially proposed in Congress as our national anthem, the fans of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” (the same melody as “God Save the King”!), “America the Beautiful” and the unofficial U.S. Anthem, “Hail, Columbia” objected on several fronts.The melody was written by our enemy at the time for a drinking club.(Some of the ensuing debate took place during Prohibition in the US.) By 1918, the British had become a US ally, and the anti-British tone in several of the verses were seen as offensive.The song is difficult for most people to sing, causing a few acquaintances of mine to dub it “The Star-Spangled Ball Buster”.The militaristic tone of the song made it unpopular in the aftermath of losses we had suffered during WWI.However, in 1931, after five unsuccessful tries in Congress, Herbert Hoover signed a bill into law making the Star Spangled Banner our National Anthem and cementing Francis Scott Key into our national consciousness.
Peter Evans MD Baltimore Oct 01, 2022 Music War & Peace
Location: Baltimore, MD
Peter Evans Oct 01, 2022
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