Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Some notes:

The music is difficult.  In most elementary schools, the 5th grade classes and older sing it every morning, but in my fourth grade class we sang “My Country Tis of Thee” instead.

Even professional singers get the last line wrong, adding a note, maybe on purpose:             ba-an-ner yet wave.  Then they end on  a (more dramatic?) high note, rather than the middle note as written.

The country singers make the formal music into a broken-heart piece!

I was moved when Aretha Franklin gave the anthem a thrilling Black sound at the Democratic National Convention of 1968. You can see and hear Franklin doing the song on

Recently the cantor of my synagogue, a White Sox fan,  sang the anthem beautifully, in his powerful baritone voice before a Sox game, the second time he’d been invited to do this.  We went to the park for his first performance.  A cantor, or hazzan, is a trained singer and expert on Jewish ritual music.  Before the recent performance, I told him it was nice to expect a straight rendition of the song.

A few days ago, a girl, maybe 16 years old, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a ballgame I was waiting to watch.  She got the words tangled up but finished as well as she could.  Surely she felt bad about this failure, and  I wish I could have told her that even professionals had had the same problem, that she should be proud she had not broken up and run off the field.  She finished the job.

The words were written in 1814 just after a failed attack on Baltimore by the British in the War of 1812.  They were applied to the melody of a well-known drinking song.

While the song was widely approved and performed, it did not become the official “national anthem” until adopted in Congress in 1931, just before I was born.

In a well-done episode of “On the Media I learned that the 3rd stanza of the song has been challenged as “racist”–take a look below.  The fact is that British ships were manned by mercenaries working for pay and slaves fighting for the reward of individual freedom if they survived. You can hear that show in the Chicago area on WBEZ 91.5 fml.  On the Media, too, was the observation that we have a history of using the flag in making legal demonstrations.

Federal law includes rules for handling the flag but provides no penalties for violation.

One rule is The flag should never be used as wearing apparel. Several years the Under Armour company arranged for the Northwestern U . football team to wear special uniforms incorporating the flag.  I sent a complaint to the Director of something or other at the University who was unimpressed.


O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the 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-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave![27]

Cover of sheet music for “The Star-Spangled Banner”, transcribed for piano by Ch. Voss, Philadelphia: G. Andre & Co., 1862



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