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Jul 19

Music Notes: Facts about our national anthem

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 9:39 AM by Elizabeth Land

Notes from the Music Staff logo

Staff Note: Notes from the Music Staff is a series of posts discussing what the library offers music fans. From our widely varied collection of music CDs to our nonfiction and fiction books covering all aspects of music, we've got something for everyone and we want to share our love of music with you!

October is “Country Music Month”, but let’s focus on a bigger picture: the most famous music of our Country — "The Star-Spangled Banner". Our national anthem, the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" were written by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer called Frank by family and friends. Here are some facts you may not know, provided by the National Museum of American History. Check out their Star-Spangled Banner page to learn more facts and to test your ability to sing our national anthem.

The flag that became known as the Star Spangled Banner flew over Fort McHenry.

  • The flag “hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming” did not fly “through the perilous fight.” The 30 x 42-foot garrison flag referenced in the song weighs 500 pounds when wet, so it was replace by a smaller storm flag (17 x 25 feet) in the pouring rain. The next morning, they re-hoisted the giant flag (pictured above). The remains of the flag can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
  • The music Key's lyrics were set to was extremely popular in America, with many different people putting their own lyrics to it. Key also used the tune for his 1805 song, “When the Warrior Returns from the Battle Afar.”
  • “The Star-Spangled Banner” did not become the National Anthem until 1931. Congress finally approved it after 40 failed attempts!
  • Key’s earliest manuscript was one of many he wrote before finally sending the copy to the printer.
  • The song was originally titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Baltimore newspapers. A local music store later printed it as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
  • Key was not a prisoner on a British warship when he wrote his verses. President Madison sent him to negotiate release of a prisoner, a Dr. Beanes.
  • The first sports event to feature “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a baseball game in 1862 Brooklyn, NY. The first World Series to feature it was in 1903 in Boston.
  • Key was a one-hit wonder and probably tone deaf. In addition to being an average poet, he had a hard time carrying a tune.
  • One of the most famous versions of the song was performed by Jimi Hendrix at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. You can watch a video of the performance on the Woodstock Story website.
Other Resources

Learn more about the national anthem with these books.

  • Star Spangled banner Our nation and its flagThe Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon — More than just the tale of one flag and one song, The Star-Spangled Banner is the story of how Americans—often in times of crisis—have expressed their patriotism and defined their identity through the "broad stripes and bright stars" of our preeminent national symbol, a tradition that still thrives today.
  • Star-spangled Banner: Our Nation and its Flag — Filled with facts and seasoned with lively anecdotes, this compelling book traces the history of the United States from its dramatic birth to its rise as a nuclear superpower and leader in post-Cold War diplomacy, highlighting historic milestones and documenting the flag's role in these events.