History of the us national anthem

In this article, you will discover the history of the us national anthem !

The United States of America is represented by several important musical themes, such as the famous America, the Beautiful . But the official American anthem, the only true national anthem of the United States, is The Star-Spangled Banner , also made famous by the sensational performances of some of the most important artists in American history, from Whitney Houston to Jimi Hendrix. Let’s discover its history and the meaning of the text together.

So how did “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the American national anthem, come to be ?

On the night of September 13, 1814, when British troops were bombarding Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812, 35-year-old lawyer Francis Scott Key was arrested aboard a ship by the British. Key was convinced that the British would triumph, but when he awoke, the smoke had cleared in “the light of dawn” and he saw the American flag on the fort in victory.

Surprised by this unexpected victory, Key wrote a poem inspired by the flag.

His brother-in-law had the poem distributed as “Defense of Fort McHencry” and set to the tune of an English song popular at the time (“The Anacreontic Song”), and the poem quickly became popular. In November of 1814, a music store in Baltimore printed the patriotic song with the sheet music for the first time under the more lyrical title, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

History of the us national anthem
The first manuscript of Key’s song | Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Although it had long been an important patriotic song, it was not recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy until 1889, and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order designating it as the “national anthem of the United States” for all military ceremonies. Because the song was so popular, there were dozens of different versions, so President Wilson commissioned an official edition from the U.S. Bureau of Education, which enlisted the help of musicians. As a result, the standard version was first performed at Carnegie Hall in December 1917.

The first issue of “The Star-Spangled Banner” | Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History


It wasn’t until March 3, 1931 that a measure passed Congress and was signed into law by President Hoover officially designating the “Star Spangled Banner” as the national anthem of the United States, a measure that had failed 40 times earlier.

The original flag that inspired the national anthem is now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

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History of the us national anthem

Patriotic words (History of the us national anthem)

On September 13, 1814, in the port of Baltimore, a flotilla of British ships attacked the American fortress McHenry with a deluge of cannon for nearly 25 hours. A week earlier, the American lawyer Francis Scott Key was sent aboard the British flagship to negotiate the release of an American prisoner.

During this operation, he learned the details of the British attack that was being prepared. He was kept under surveillance on a neutral ship until after the attack in order to avoid any leak of information.

Francis Scott Key witnessed from afar the huge attack against the American fortress. He feared the worst, but at sunrise, despite the incessant explosions of the previous night, he still saw the American flag flying unwaveringly. Deeply moved and inspired by this triumphant act of resistance, he begins to write :

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,
Thru 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?

A melody that comes from afar

Once his lyrics were written, Francis Scott Key decided to put them to music. He chose a melody already popular at the time, To Anacreon in Heaven.

If the lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner were born in the symbolic conflict of the American War of Independence against the British, the origin of the music is not so patriotic. Ironically, the melody was written by an Englishman !

Born in 1750 in Gloucester, England, John Stafford Smith, a composer and organist of great renown at the time, was invited in the early 1770s to join the prestigious Anacreontic Society, a private and elitist club of amateur musicians.

He composed a drinking song for the club, To Anacreon in Heaven, which became the official anthem of the club. Widely published and broadcast, the song crossed the Atlantic at the end of the 1770s to reach American soil.

A popular tune among American amateur musicians, it was often covered and adapted, notably by Francis Scott Key. Thus, in 1813, the lawyer and amateur composer once again called upon the popular theme that he knew well, and inscribed a British melody in the history of the United States.

Meaning of the Star-Spangled Banner

A patriotic anthem par excellence, not devoid of war rhetoric, The Star-Spangled Banner is inspired by the sight of the American flag, and is in fact centered precisely on the meaning that the flag has for the American pole, a flag that represents the “land of the free and the home of the brave.

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No sport without an anthem

An immediate success, the Star-Spangled Banner became a staple of the traditional American repertoire. The song was adopted by the U.S. Navy in 1889, and in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the anthem be played at every American military event.

But it wasn’t until 1931 that the U.S. Congress voted to make the song the country’s official anthem.
There is, however, another aspect of American culture in which the Star-Spangled Banner has become an indispensable anthem : sports.

Since May 15, 1862, at a baseball game in Brooklyn, the song and the sport have become one. During World War I and World War II, the anthem was played for its patriotic symbolism at the beginning of every American soccer game, in support of the soldiers.

In 1945, the National Football League commission decreed that the anthem must be sung before every game, a tradition that would later spread to all sports including basketball and baseball.

American Anthem : The history and meaning of The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States.

Patriotic hymn composed by John Stafford Smith in September 1814, it was performed for the first time in Baltimore in October, enriched with an English text written by Francis Scott Key , lawyer and amateur poet at the age of 35.

Musical representation of the flag, its author was inspired by the sight of the banner intact on the ramparts of Fort McHenry, Maryland, after a bombardment by the Royal Navy during the War of 1812. The inspiration for the musical composition was rather an English folk song .

Initially adopted as an anthem by some arms of the army, including the Navy, it was formally recognized in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, and then officially became the U.S. national anthem in 1931, on March 3, under President Herbert Hoover.

Used before all national sporting events, the American anthem was played even before it became official, in 1862, at the opening of a baseball game in New York.

Since the early years of the twentieth century, however, what should have been a symbol of unity has become the subject of protests and controversy. Sensational that of David Meggyesy, legend of the St. Louis Cardinals, NFL franchise, who in the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy refused to pay tribute to the flag and bowed his head during the performance of the national anthem.

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Same demonstration of protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, on what has remained the most iconic podium in Olympic history, in 1968. The protest for them was motivated by the struggles of the African-American civil rights movements.

More recently, the anthem has been used as a means of protest by NBA and NFL champions, particularly to draw attention to the racial injustice that unfortunately still plagues the United States as well as the rest of the world. Not surprisingly, the NFL has for some years now chosen to play what is recognized as the African-American anthem during the Super Bowl: Lift Every Voice and Sing .


American Anthem with electric guitar and other performances

As for the world of pop music, there are three performances that have gone down in history. One above all: the one with the electric guitar of Jimi Hendrix on the last day of the Woodstock Festival.

A crazy instrumental performance, in which the guitarist showed all his talent by simulating the explosions of rockets and bombs with plectrum and tremolo, to protest against the war in Vietnam. Below, the video of one of the most emblematic moments in the history of music :


A second historic performance is the one, also recorded in the studio, by Whitney Houston in the early 90s for charity: the piece was recorded to raise money for the families victims of the Gulf War. In 2001, it was also re-released for another fundraiser for the victims of the Twin Towers, confirming in fact one of the most popular versions of the anthem :

And we finish with the most recent one of Lady Gaga. The Italian-American singer-songwriter lent herself to the interpretation of the American anthem at a very important moment in the history of the United States, the inauguration of President Joe Biden after four years of controversial Trump administration. Gaga herself had also performed the anthem a few years earlier in a Super Bowl :


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