I recently had the opportunity to attend the Teaching with Music-Related Primary Sources Face-to Face Workshop in November 2017 at the Library of Congress. Even though I am not a music teacher (I am a high school librarian) I thoroughly appreciated and found great value in the workshop. During the workshop we were exposed to music-related resources in order to engage students, build critical thinking, and construct knowledge, the pillars of the TPS (Teaching with Primary Sources) program. We had an amazing visit to the Music Division Reading Room where James Wintle showed us various resources and were regaled with their little known back stories.
One artifact that was shared with us was a copy of the poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key. Since the recent NFL controversy of players kneeling while the National Anthem is played, I was curious about the origins of the poem/song. I discovered the poem/song is not without its surprises. Even though we sing one stanza at the beginning of ballgames and other events, the song actually has four stanzas. The lyrics also include question marks at the end of some lines - …”were so gallantly streaming?” I’m not sure how you sing a question, but I’m sure we have music experts that could tell me how it is done! The melody is attributed to “To Anacreon in Heaven” which you can read more about from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History post. Some say the national anthem originated from a drinking song, but there are others who refute that claim.
There are many informative and interesting blogs on the Library of Congress website that shine the light on Francis Scott Key and “The Star-Spangled Banner”. One blog, Bringing the “Banner” to Light by Erin Allen discusses the (uncertain) history, lyrics, and melody of the anthem. Another blog by Jeff Bridges, O Say Can You See shares with us prints held by the library of the bombardment of Fort McHenry. And yet another blog from The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center entitled The Birth of the Star Spangled Banner (Edison, 1914) by Mike Mashon, includes a copy of the magazine Edison Kinetogram which features “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the blog also includes the film, The Birth of the Star Spangled Banner. What a treat!
Currently, the original handwritten poem resides at the Maryland Historical Society.
The song became America’s anthem in 1931, long after it was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. There is an autographed manuscript at the Library of Congress which is in beautiful digital format and there are examples of the Star Spangled Banner in Primary Source Sets – Symbols of the United States.
Use all of these resources to discover the history behind our nation’s song.