7 Fun Facts About The Star-Spangled Banner
1. Shakespeare wrote the phrase “by spangled star-light sheen” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and “what Stars do Spangle heaven with such beauty?” (The Taming of the Shrew).
2. Anyone with United States currency in his or her pocket or purse is carrying around a paraphrase of a line in the fourth verse of The Star-Spangled Banner, “In God is Our Trust,” changed it to In God We Trust and printed on coins since the Civil War and paper bills beginning in 1957.
3. The words of To Anacreon in Heaven, the song that Francis Scott Key borrowed for the melody of The Star-Spangled Banner, is a sly 1700’s paean to drinking and sex. Though understated, the line “I’ll instruct you, like me to entwine; The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine” is unambiguous.
4. It took 117 years from the time Francis Scott Key wrote the words now known as The Star-Spangled Banner until Congress designated the song as the official national anthem in 1931. A laissez faire attitude toward national symbols, a focus on commerce, the desire to allow for the people’s choice to emerge, the reluctance of Congress to act on a non-pressing but controversial issue and the emergence of popular alternatives led to the lag.
5. There are four verses to The Star-Spangled Banner, which helps explain why the first verse ends with a question mark. The song is only understandable in its complete form, which ultimately resolves the query and unlike many other national anthems, ends with an optimistic view of the future.
6. No official music or lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner exist, thus no two performances of the song are exactly alike. The source of the commonly accepted version of the words is the manuscript written by Key in 1814 and now in the possession of the Maryland Historical Society. Yet the first verse sung today differs from the words written by Key and the original melody used one note to execute the words “O! say can you see,” not the three note descent all Americans are familiar with.
7. Though written in 6/8 time, The Star-Spangled Banner is unusually adaptable and has been transformed into 3/4 time. Military bands marched to it in 4/4 time, the time signature used by Whitney Houston in her famous 1991 version.
Marc Ferris is the author of Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem