Oh, say!—can you see that today is National Anthem Day? I think it’s safe to say that The Star-Spangled Banner is one song that every American knows word for word. Originally a poem, written in 1814 by a lawyer named Francis Scott Key at 35, his words have been sung from the mouths of every American generation since.
Francis never considered himself much of a poet, yet his words have lived on now for 200 years! Titled, “Defense of Fort McHenry,” his poem was about an assault of British ships on Fort McHenry that he’d seen during a battle in the War of 1812.
The words of his poem were set to the tune of “The Anacreon in Heaven” a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith in the 1760’s for the Anacreontic Society, a club of amateur musicians. It didn’t take long after the marriage of words and music that the piece was renamed and popularized.
Another thing that few people know about the National Anthem is that it’s actually got four verses—the poem had four stanzas anyway. I think it’s safe to say at this point that they aren’t really part of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” though people used to sing every verse. The first verse is the only one that anyone ever sings.
While it gained popularity quickly, it wasn’t recognized for official use as our national anthem until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson brought it to the attention of men in Congress. Even then, it wasn’t officially made our country’s anthem until March 3 of 1931!
Before that, “Hail, Columbia” usually filled the role of America’s ‘anthem.’ Now “Hail, Columbia is the song we use to honor the Vice President. Also in the competition for national anthem was “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
Oh yeah, and “The Star-Spangled Banner”—especially with all four verses—isn’t the easiest song to sing. See if you can sing all four verses without any trouble!