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The Star-Spangled Banner

posted Jul 3, 2011, 8:02 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 2:36 PM ]
Oh say, did you.. know that the melody Francis Scott Key had in mind when he wrote the words to our national anthem was actually a British drinking song? 

This particular melody was composed for a group of upscale London gentlemen who had recently formed The Anacreaontic Society in honor of an ancient Greek poet who wrote extensively about women and wine.  (And yes, this club still exists!)  One of its founders wrote the lyrics (ironically in 1776) and the organist at the Chapel Royal, John Stafford Smith, composed the music.  It was published as To Anacreon in Heaven in 1779, the year Francis Scott Key was born! 

Before copyright protection, melodies in the 18th and early 19th centuries were often recycled, like hymn tunes still are today.  Popular songs were often quickly parodied by others, so it wasn’t unusual to hear a piece of music used for everything from a campaign song to a country dance!  By 1798, this one had been published in the U.S. as Adams and Liberty – The Boston Patriotic Song.  After Jefferson was elected, it was republished as Jefferson and Liberty.  Young Washington attorney F. Scott Key first used it in 1805 for a song in honor of the heroes of the Barbary Wars beginning “When the warrior returns…” before writing his now-famous version in 1814 about the bombing of Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812.

Jose Feliciano shocked the crowd at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium when he strummed a slow, bluesy rendition of it for the 1968 World Series.  Whitney Houston’s version in 1991 for Super Bowl XXV hit number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, the only time it’s made the charts!  Jimi Hendrix opened Woodstock with his famous instrumental version.  And Christina Aguilera flubbed the lyrics in 2011 for Super Bowl XLV.

The Navy started using it officially in 1889, and it just became our national anthem eighty years ago in 1931, one hundred and fifty years after being composed as a (raise your glass) drinking song!