Saturday, September 20, 2014

On This Day in Music (1814): “The Star-Spangled Banner” published

The Star-Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key (words), John Stafford Smith (music)

Writer(s): Francis Scott Key, John Stafford Smith (see lyrics here)

Written: September 16, 1814

Published (in newspaper): September 20, 1814

First Performed: October 19, 1814

First Charted: July 2, 1892 (Gilmore’s Band)

Peak (various versions): 13 PM, 48 AC, 35 CW, 30 RB, 6 CL (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US (Whitney Houston, 1991)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 142.993 video, -- streaming

Awards (Key):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Gilmore’s Band):

Awards (Charles Adams Prince):

Awards (John McCormack):

Awards (Jimi Hendrix):

About the Song:

The melody for “The Star-Spangled Banner” came from “To Anacreon in Heaven,” an English tune published circa 1780 and likely composed by John Stafford Smith. Ralph Tomlinson wrote the words. Both were members of London’s Anacreontic Club, a gentlemen’s society for wealthy men who gathered to celebrate with music, food, and drink. This was their theme song. CP

The melody was popular in America during the War of 1812. During the last days of the war in 1814, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Baltimore and “a gifted amateur poet,” SM was part of a group sent to negotiate with the British for the release of Dr. William Beanes. The party arrived on the vessel just before they attacked Fort McHenry from the harbor. TY2 When he saw the American flag still flying above the fort the next morning (September 14, 1814) AMP after the bombardment, he used the back of a letter to scribble down four verses SM of a poem he called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” He used “To Anacreon in Heaven” as the melody to accompany his verses.

His poem was published in The Baltimore Patriot on September 20, 1814. By mid-October, it had been reprinted in at least 17 other papers up and down the East Coast. SM It was first performed publicly on October 19, 1814 by Mr. Hardinge at the Holiday Street Theatre in Baltimore. AMP When the sheet music was published the next year, the title was changed to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was adopted as the national anthem, first by the army and navy, and then as the official American national anthem on March 3, 1931 via an act of Congress signed into law by President Herbert Hoover AMP

The song requires a wide vocal range which makes it difficult for untrained singers. There are even professional musicians who’ve struggled to stay on pitch with the tune. The song has been popularly played by military bands throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. There have been chart versions of the song by Patrick Gilmore’s Band (#2 PM, 1892), Margaret Woodrow Wilson (#7 PM, 1915), Charles Adams Prince’s Orchestra (#12 PM, 1916), John McCormack (#13 PM, 1917), Jose Felciano (#50 BB, 1968), Faith Hill (#35 CW, 2001), andthe Band Perry (#59 CW, 2012).

It has also been recorded by John Philip Sousa’s Band (1898), Billy Joel (2000), and Boston (2012). Whitney Houston famously sang the song at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 and that performance was revived and released as a single in 2001 (#6 BB, 48 AC, 30 RB) in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was also famously performed by Jimi Hendrix at the close of the Woodstock Festival in 1969.


First posted 8/29/2023; last updated 9/2/2023.

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