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Do We Need a New National Anthem?

NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 29: Michelle Williams performs performs the National Anthem at the 2014 NHL Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium on January 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)

The US Navy was the first to use what would become the national anthem officially in 1889 and also by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. On March 3, 1931 President Herbert Hoover signed the bill making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United States.

The Inspiration for the Poem

The inspiration for the Key poem occurred during the War of 1812. Key witnessed British ships attacking Fort McHenry from the Chesapeake Bay. The bombs bursting in air giving proof through the night that the flag was still standing and America was still alive.

Some History

As most of us learned in school, the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner come from an 1814 poem, “Defence of Fort M’Henry” written by 35-year-old Francis Scott Key. (Defence is the British spelling of Defense)

The music for the national anthem came from a popular British song of the time called, “The Anacreontic Song” of “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Key’s poem was set to the music and it became a very popular patriotic song of the time.

Various Versions

By the early 20th century there were many versions of the national anthem in use. In an effort to standardize the song Woodrow Wilson asked the Bureau of Education for help. The bureau selected five musicians, Walter Damrosch, Will Earhart, Arnold J. Gantvoort, Oscar Sonneck and John Phillip Sousa and asked them to select an agreed upon final version. The final version was presented at Carnegie Hall on December 5, 1917. Thankfully the original notes of these men have been found and preserved.

Thoughts on a New National Anthem

We all know that the national anthem is not an easy song to sing. For those music buffs out there its range is one and half octaves. While the song officially has four verses only the first verse is commonly sung as the anthem.

There are some who feel that the Star Spangled Banner glorifies war and should be changed to the more America positive songs like “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America.” These two songs are also somewhat controversial because of their mention of God in the lyrics, which is not mentioned in the Start Spangled Banner.

Some Final Thoughts

I doubt the Star Spangled Banner will be replaced anytime soon. But the conversation will certainly continue. Perhaps we need to assemble another five musicians of the day together. Let’s get Paul McCartney, Eminem, Garth Books, Billy Joel and Bob Dylan all together to write a new anthem for the US. It would be interesting to see what that group would agree on.

What are our options for a new anthem? Rap, country, bluegrass, classical, rock, rhythm and blues, reggae, heavy metal? Oh say can you see — singing the Star Spangled Banner as a rap song? I think I’ve had too much coffee.

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