Thursday, March 03, 2011

80 Years Ago Today

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” based on a British drinking song, becomes the U.S. national anthem

"Today (March 3rd) in 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional resolution that made Maryland resident Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United States of America.

It is relatively common knowledge that our anthem’s lyrics were taken from Key’s poem “Defence of Fort McHenry,” which Key penned after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The slightly bawdy history of the tune to which “The Star-Spangled Banner” is set, on the other hand, is not quite as well known.

Originally titled “The Anacreontic Song,” it was composed in the mid-1760s by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a gentleman’s club in London made up of amateur musicians. The Society was named after the Greek court poet Anacreon, whose favorite topics included wine, women, and entertainment.

Although the purpose of the Society was to encourage an interest in the musical arts, their club song (what with its references to Bacchus, the god of wine, and Venus, the goddess of love) soon became popular as a drinking song.

According to the rather unreliable annals of tavern culture, “The Anacreontic Song” was also used as a sobriety test. Since the melody was challenging to sing and covered an octave and a half, pub patrons figured that if you could sing a stanza of the song and keep relatively in tune, you were OK to have another drink."


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