The U.S. Congress approved the song on March 31, 1931, so that makes it 75 years old this month. It's hard to believe that we were the only nation in the world without an official melody in 1928 when those which didn't have one got theirs.
Good grief! What did they play at the Olympic Games when we won a gold medal?
Actually, The Star-Spangled Banner had been played and sung for more than a century, but it was never sanctioned until President Herbert Hoover signed it into law the day after the 71st Congress adjourned.
A 35-year-old lawyer � Francis Scott Key � penned the words when he watched the British bombard Fort McHenry on Sept. 13-14, 1814. It lasted, with intermission, for some 25 hours as the British lobbed more than 1,500 shells into the Baltimore entrenchment.
When the shelling ceased, the sight of the tattered flag (now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC) inspired Key � a volunteer in a light artillery company � to describe what he saw in verse.
He wrote it on the back of an envelope, and the next day he gave the poem to his brother-in-law, Judge J.H. Nicholson, who apparently suggested it be set to music. It was he who picked an old English drinking song � To Anacreon in Heaven � as the tune for it. The Baltimore Patriot published the piece on Sept. 20, 1814.
I don't know if the high stuff was there or not, but the melody was rewritten so that Americans could sing it. (I still have trouble with "the rockets' red glare" part.)
In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it the national anthem and directed all military services to play it. But Congress reputedly had other things to do and didn't officially legislate it.
That's the way it was for 15 years until the Veterans of Foreign Wars got into the act. With Walter I. Joyce spearheading the campaign, more than five million signatures appeared on petitions which were presented to an appropriate committee of the House.
That was in 1930, and after a lot of political maneuvering, a bill � written by Maryland Representative J.C. Linthicum � was passed without a single vote in opposition. The Senate concurred.
President Hoover, who had been accused of lots of things, got the credit for signing the measure making The Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem at long last.
Periodically there's been a drive to have a less military-oriented song � like God Bless America � named to replace it, but the "God" part always defeats it.
I always liked the story about the sentry who halted a suspicious looking character. "Okay," he said, "if you are an American, repeat the second verse of The Star-Spangled Banner."
Needless to say, he couldn't do it, if he were an American or not.
For your information, I'm going to include the second verse here:
On the shore, dimly seen through the mistsof the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dreadsilence reposes,
What is that whichthe breeze, o'erthe 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-spangledbanner! Oh longmay it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
� 2006 Robert F. Karolevitz