Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Song #192: "The Star Spangled Banner" (1814)

It's, by far, the oldest song in our Top 500, the most patriotic, and, sadly, perhaps, in these times, the most controversial. But putting today's current events aside, let's marvel at the history behind the song that made it the anthem of, in my opinion, the greatest nation that has ever graced the face of the earth.

Francis Scott Key writes what would be the lyrics in 1814 in the poem, "The Defence of Fort M'Henry" in September. It was only days later when he gave the poem to his brother-in-law, who placed the words into a 41-year old tune, "The Anacreontic Song" from John Stafford Smith of England. It was printed by two newspapers, then caught on up and down the Atlantic Seaboard.

Several versions of the song survived for the next century, then, President Woodrow Wilson decided, let's think about getting a standard version. Five musicians, including John Philip Sousa, voted on which version to adopt universally. By unanimous choice, the version we know today "premiered" of sorts at Carnegie Hall in New York City on December 5, 1917, just over 99 years ago.

But it would take over thirteen more years, and several attempts, before it was adopted as our National Anthem, as President Herbert Hoover signed the bill passed by Congress into law on March 4, 1931, over forty years after the United States Navy began using it each time the flag was raised.

We've heard many memorable versions, sung it many times. In 2015, I decided to keep track of how many times I heard The Star Spangled Banner at sporting events I covered along the way. My final count for the year was 210 times. I heard lots of recorded versions, some live versions, some good, some excellent.

There's Jose Feliciano at the 1968 World Series, Marvin Gaye at the 1983 All-Star Game, but, for my money, the best version ever was by the late Whitney Houston, and used at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 just after the start of The Gulf War. There was a brief controversy about her recording it prior to the game and not singing it live, but it died down, as it should have.

The next day, radio stations across the country were playing the song. The country embraced the version like never before, and her record company got a version out for sale as soon as possible for the technology of 25 years ago.

So here is a look at January 27, 1991, and the late Whitney Houston with our National Anthem, its roots now nearly 203 years old. (NOTE: Advance to 1:10 mark in the video....)

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