The Star-Spangled Banner

From Academic Kids

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Nicholson took the copy Key gave him to a printer, where it was published as a broadside on September 17 under the title "The Defence of Fort McHenry," with an explanatory note explaining the circumstances of its writing. Of the five copies made, two are known to still exist.
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An artist's rendering of the battle at Fort McHenry.
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Percy Moran drew Francis Scott Key reaching out towards the flag in 1913.
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This 1814 copy of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the first printed edition to combine the words and sheet music. Copies such as these were sold from a catalog of Thomas Carr's Carr Music Store in Baltimore. Currently this is one of only ten copies known to exist, and is housed in the Library of Congress.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland by British ships in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. It became popular as a patriotic song after it was put to the tune of the English drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven, but was only made the national anthem by a Congressional resolution on March 3, 1931.


Early history

On September 3, 1814, Key and John S. Skinner of Baltimore, Maryland an American prisoner exchange agent, set sail from Baltimore aboard the sloop HMS Minden flying a flag of truce approved by James Madison. Their goal was to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro, a friend of Key's who had been captured in Washington, DC and had been accused of harboring British deserters. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with General Robert Ross and Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner, while they also discussed war plans. In the beginning, 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 much of the preparations for the Baltimore attack, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise, and later back onto the Minden sloop, waiting behind the British fleet. On September 13, at 7 a.m., the fighting began, continuing for 25 hours of British bombardment all through the night until September 14 while the British fleet attacked the fort during the Battle of Baltimore. During the night, Key witnessed the battle, and was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the enormous American flag still standing in the midst of the battle. This flag, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a part of the Smithsonian Institution.

The next day, Key wrote a poem aboard the ship on the back of a letter he had in his pocket, continuing to write during the sail. After being released with Skinner in Baltimore at twilight on September 16, Key finished the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel where he was staying, entitling it Defence of Fort McHenry.

Key gave his poem to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson, who suggested that the poem be set to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven," a popular English drinking song dating from around 1800, written by John Stafford Smith. Nicholson took the poem to a printer. These broadside copies, the song's first known printing, were printed anonymously in Baltimore on September 17—of these, two known copies still exist.

On September 20, both the Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the song, with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." The song instantly became popular, with 17 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." The song quickly became popular, and the first public performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" took place in October, when Baltimore actor Ferdinand Durang sang the song at Captain McCauley's tavern.

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson ordered that "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at military occasions. Two years later, in 1918, the song was first played at a baseball game; in the World Series, the band started an impromptu performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the seventh-inning stretch. The players and spectators stood at attention, took off their hats, and sang, giving rise to a tradition that is repeated at almost every professional baseball game in United States today, though it is now performed prior to the first pitch.

It was adopted as the national anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.

Adaptations and modern history

The most famous instrumental interpretation is Jimi Hendrix's guitar solo at the first Woodstock Festival. Although it was condemned by some conservatives as a desecration to the song, it has since become a celebrated emblematic signature of the ideals of the late 1960s.

When sung in public (before major sporting events, for example), for reasons of brevity, verses after the first are typically omitted; relatively few Americans know the words beyond the first verse. A short detective-style mystery once made light of this when a foreign spy was identified when it was found he knew every stanza, something no real American would know. It is sometimes said humorously that the last two words of the anthem are "PLAY BALL!"


  • The lyrics can be sung to the tune of the Hymn of the Soviet Union with no modification.
  • The tune 'To Anacreon in Heaven' was at one time the national anthem of Luxembourg.
  • Because it is the most explicitly anti-British verse (and also fairly gory), the third is virtually never sung.
  • The first stanza is full of questions. It is in the other stanzas that these questions are answered, although they are almost never sung.
  • The Minden was built at Bombay, India.
  • A common stage trick done by vocalists is, during the singing of the words "free" and "brave" near the end of the song, to jump up to the tonic as a demonstration of virtuosity. For example, when Whitney Houston performed the song at Super Bowl XXV, her voice jumped to higher notes on the word "free" than was intended in the original song.
  • A similar trick may also be done by instrumentalists, who play higher notes on the same words as the vocalists. Saxophonist David Sanborn did this in a duet with Brian McKnight when they performed together at the 1997 NBA All-Star Game. When McKnight sang "free," Sanborn responded by playing a much higher note on his saxophone.
  • Rock singer Steven Tyler of Aerosmith improvised on the song's ending by singing "...and the home of the Indianapolis 500," in reference to the race he performed at. This offended veteran groups, and they demanded an apology from Tyler.
  • In March 2005 a government sponsored program was started in the USA to help the population learn the lyrics of the national anthem. [1] (
  • The anthem's performance at every University of North Dakota hockey game ends with the entire crowd yelling "SIOUX!" in the place of "Brave." (Similarly, whenever the national anthem is performed at University of Oklahoma sporting events, the last line becomes, "and the home of the 'SOONERS!'")
  • At North Carolina State University sporting events, students and fans often shout the word "red" in the line "the rockets' red glare" and replace "brave" at the end of the song with "wolfpack" in tribute to the school's color and mascot. However, this practice has come under fire recently, though it has not led to any change in behavior.
  • When the song is performed at Atlanta Braves games, the final word is pluralized, making the last line "and the home of the BRAVES!" (Sometimes, "Atlanta" may be added before "Braves.")
  • At home games of the Baltimore Orioles, who are affectionately known as the "O's", when the song is performed, the "Oh" in the line "Oh say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave" is emphasized and yelled out, rather than sung. This is such a tradition in Baltimore that this practice may also be heard at many places in and around Baltimore when the anthem is performed or where there is a large congregation of Orioles fans.
  • In the 1997 movie Men in Black, a group of aliens sing a song that closely resembles the National Anthem in gibberish. The anthem is also featured in the 2002 sequel Men in Black II, in which another group of aliens living in a locker sing the song to honor the man who has given them a watch to keep time. One version of the song goes: "Oh 'K,' can you see..." until 'Agent K' (Tommy Lee Jones) removes his watch from the locker, upsetting the aliens. When 'Agent J' (Will Smith) puts his own watch into the locker, the aliens are happy again, and they sing: "Oh 'J,' can you see..."
  • The song is notoriously difficult for non-professionals to sing, due to its octave-and-a-half range. Humorist Richard Armour referenced this well-known fact in his book It All Started With Columbus:
"In an attempt to take Baltimore, the British attacked Fort McHenry, which protected the harbor. Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Off Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, and when, by the dawn's early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror!"
  • Professional singers have been known to forget the words, which is one reason why the song is so often pre-recorded and lip-synched. This situation was lampooned in the comedy film, The Naked Gun, as its star Leslie Nielsen, undercover as an opera singer at a ball game, made mincemeat of the lyrics.
  • The pre-recording of the anthem has become standard practice at some ballparks (such as Fenway Park) in order to prevent a "Roseanne incident". Roseanne Arnold performed the song in San Diego some years ago, and her screechy rendition raised a few eyebrows and triggered changes in the way the song is presented.
  • Wayne Messmer, the Chicago Cubs public address announcer, occasionally presents his stirring rendition at Wrigley Field, wherein he ends on two rising notes, rather than dropping down the scale as the song is normally done. And unlike many of the artists who turn it into a "performance", with pauses at their own discretion that make it impossible for the audience to sing along, Messmer does it "straight".
  • The song is known as one of the few national anthems that does not mention the name of the home country.


Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched 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.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
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! Oh 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 and 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.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Bles't with victory 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.

Note that under most circumstances only the first stanza is played.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's powerful recording includes verses I and IV.


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External links

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