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The star-spangled banner was written on September 14, 1814 by Francis Scott Key, the day after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.
The history of “The Star Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States, is long and winding. Although the song is now widely associated with the United States, it wasn’t even officially made the national anthem until 1931, when an act of Congress enshrined “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official national anthem of the United States.
And while the song is notoriously difficult to sing, it was not always so, as the difficulty depends on the key in which the song is played, with most modern musicians using A-flat or B-flat, instead of A, the original key of the song.
The melody used in “The Star Spangled Banner” is thought to date back to 1750, when it was composed by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreonotic Society in London.
Although popular legend often suggests that the tune was originally a drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” as the tune was originally known, was in fact a hymn to music and society.
The Anacreonotic Society certainly did its fair share of drinking, but the main purpose of the organization was to promote music among London gentlemen.
Apparently people liked the tune, which may explain why it came to mind in 1814 when Francis Scott Key was looking for appropriate music for his poem “In Defence of Fort McHenry.” The poem was written on September 14, 1814, the day after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.
According to Key, he was struck by the sight of a certain American flag flying over the fort, so he wrote a long poem of four stanzas and set it to music. The story of “The Star Spangled Banner” probably would have been much shorter if people had tried to sing all four complicated verses, but instead, people usually just sing the first one.
When the poem was released alongside the tune by Thomas Carr, the owner of a music store in Baltimore, Carr changed the title to “The Star Spangled Banner” and the story of “The Star Spangled Banner” as we know it began.
Initially, “The Star Spangled Banner” was just one of a multitude of patriotic tunes. By the time of the Civil War, however, it had become indelibly associated with patriotic occasions, with the military playing “The Star Spangled Banner” and the song being used on sports and other official occasions.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson officially declared “The Star Spangled Banner” a designated song for official use, perhaps due to strong pressure from the song’s fans.
In 1929, the story of “The Star Spangled Banner” took a dramatic turn when cartoonists began to mock the fact that the United States did not have an official national anthem.
This was actually not very unusual, and in fact some countries still do not have official anthems, or several anthems compete for the honor.
However, Congress felt that the designation of an official national anthem might be desirable, and “The Star Spangled Banner” was selected.
They also set some ground rules for behavior during the national anthem: people should stand in front of the flag with their hands over their hearts while the song is played, with people in uniform waving the flag while the song is played.
Some other songs have been used as American anthems at various times in history, including “Hail, Columbia,” “My Country, ’tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful.”
Some black residents of the United States even support the use of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a national anthem and, in fact, the song is sometimes referred to as the “black national anthem.”
Some Americans have a strong preference for one of these songs, arguing that the history of “The Star Spangled Banner” included quite a bit of machinations to get people to officially use the song and that alternative anthems are easier to sing and more enjoyable to listen to.