“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.”—part of Francis Scott Key’s “Defence of Fort M’Henry”
Francis Scott Key watched the Battle of Fort McHenry through the night of September 13, 1814. He watched “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” the light from which “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
He composed the four-stanza poem commemorating the successful American defense of the fort on this date 202 years ago; it was published in newspapers within days and set to song soon after that, when it became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The music was added later.
The tune, by John Stafford Smith, was associated with a men’s club in London that was well-known during the Revolutionary War era, “The Anacreontic Society.” Stafford Smith was a member. Members of that long-gone men’s club used to sing a mock-solemn song about the Anacreontic Society and its origins, a song entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven,” so it became a common practice to take this tune, which was neither solemn nor mock-solemn on its own merits but was almost catchy, almost hum-able, and attach it to any new popular poem whenever one fit it metrically.
And Francis Scott Key’s poem about watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 fit the tune perfectly. By 1889, the U.S. Navy used it in ceremonies and it was known as the unofficial U.S. national anthem for decades after. A campaign to have the country make it the official national anthem followed and it gathered strength in the 1920s.
John Stafford Smith died in 1836 and thus did not live to see his tune, one of his minor creations in a long musical career, become one of the most recognized tunes on the planet.
A recording of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” to hear Stafford Smith’s melody without Francis Scott Key’s poem:
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“Yesterday,” a song that was essentially a Paul McCartney solo effort, was released as a single by The Beatles (over the group’s objections) in the U.S. on this date in 1965. None of the three other members of the group took part in the recording of the song, and, as it did not sound like the band’s other recordings, it was not released as a single in the United Kingdom. It went to number 1 in America, however.
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Tupac Shakur was murdered 20 years ago today. Governor Ann Richards died 10 years ago today.
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Daniel Defoe was born on this date in 1660. Milton S. Hershey was born in 1857 on this date. Arnold Schoenberg was born on this date in 1874. Sherwood Anderson was born on this date in 1876. Bill Monroe was born on this date in 1911. Roald Dahl was born 100 years ago today. Yma Sumac was born in 1922 on this date. Mel Torme was born on this date in 1925. Richard Kiel was born 77 years ago today. Nell Carter was born in 1948 on this date.
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Barbara Bain is 85. Don Bluth is 79. Judith Martin is 78. Óscar Arias Sánchez is 76. Peter Cetera is 72. Jacqueline Bisset is 72. Jean Smart is 65. Don Was is 64. Zak Starkey is 51. Jeffrey Ross is 51. Bernie Williams is 48 today. Stella McCartney is 45. Fiona Apple is 39 today.
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