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Grassley Q & A:

Star Spangled Banner

June 30, 2010
Traer Star-Clipper





Q. What is the history of the U.S. national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner?

A. The poem that later became the U.S. national anthem was written about the famous Battle of Baltimore during the British-American War of 1812. At one point during this battle, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, was bombed for 25 hours straight. Before the battle, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, author and poet, was aboard a British ship negotiating prisoner exchanges. Because his presence on the British ship allowed him access to information regarding British plans to attack Fort McHenry, he was not allowed to leave the ship following his negotiations. Instead, he was forced to helplessly watch the attack from the enemy ship.

As the battle began to wind down, Key stared toward the shore, and there, among the smoke and fire, flowing proudly in the wind was the American flag. Key told the American prisoners what he had seen. Key was so moved that he wrote a poem entitled "The Defence of Fort McHenry," which contained the lyrics to what is today known as the Star Spangled Banner. Key intended the poem to fit the popular song To Anacreon in Heaven, which is the tune of today's U.S. national anthem.

Q. How did the Star Spangled Banner become the national anthem?

A. Before the Star Spangled Banner became the official national anthem of the United States, many patriotic songs, including the Star Spangled Banner, were performed at official ceremonies. In 1916, President Wilson ordered that the Star Spangled Banner be played at military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions and, in 1931, President Hoover signed a law that made the Star Spangled Banner America's official national anthem.

Q. What other interesting Star Spangled Banner facts can you share?

A. John Philip Sousa, known for his patriotic American marches and arguably the most popular American composer of all time, was a strong supporter of naming the Star Spangled Banner, not one of his own songs, the official anthem of the United States.

Requiring a vocal range of an octave and a half, the Star Spangled Banner is very difficult to sing. Vocally, it is widely regarded as the most difficult national anthem, as well as one of the most difficult songs of any genre.



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