Saturday, March 3, 2012

Remembering: The Star Spangled Banner

On March 3, 1931 President Hoover signed into law an act that the day before had passed Congress. The act declared a song, written over a hundred years before, to be the official national anthem for the United States of America.

Written September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key, as he watched the British bombard Fort McHenry over night. Key, a lawyer, had been detained aboard a British ship, and wrote the words down to express his joy at seeing the stars and stripes still flying in the morning.

A Baltimore newspaper later published the lyrics on September 20, 1814. After that, it was set to the music of a popular English song, "To Anacreon in Heaven". Throughout the 19th century more and more of the US came to consider it the official song of the country. In 1916, President Wilson declared it to be the national anthem in 1916.

Possibly the most interesting, important, and emotional playings of the song came on September 12, 2001. On that day even Queen Elizabeth II, had the Band of Coldstream Guards play the anthem at the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

The song actually consists of four verses, but only the first is really used. In 1840, Key tried changing the third line to: "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the clouds of the fight", but it never really stuck to it. It is considered one of the hardest songs to sing, due to it's range of one and a half octaves.

O! 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 rockets' 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?

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 home 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!

During the Civil War, a fifth verse was added, written by Oliver Wendell Holmes. But after the war it faded away from the song.

When our land is illumined with liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.