Madame Leslie and Music

A blog about life and its songs

The Star-Spangled Banner

April 25th, 2015

I was cleaning my studio when I stumbled upon a vinyl record. It’s a copy of The Star-Spangled Banner, as interpreted by Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock 30th Anniversary.


At that time, Hendrix’ unexpected rendition was controversial and got negative reactions. But when asked about it later in a TV show, Hendrix said “I’m an American, so I played it.” He couldn’t have answered any better. I don’t like his rendition, but it’s a great example of freedom of expression. And isn’t that a key principle in American independence?

The record made me look up the story behind the anthem, and below are what I found. I know that July 4 is still months away, but it’s never too early to look back at our history.

The National Anthem — A Brief History

The year was 1814, and once again the United States was at war with the British. Dr. William Beanes, an elderly and well-loved physician, had been captured in his home, accused of aiding in the arrest of some British soldiers. He was being held prisoner aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant off the coast of Maryland.

Dr. Beanes’ good friend, Francis Scott Key, set sail from Baltimore with attorney John Stuart Skinner to try to arrange for Dr. Beanes’ release through a prisoner exchange. When Key and Skinner showed the British officers letters written by British soldiers praising Dr. Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment, the British officers were inclined to let him go. However, when they realized that Keys and Skinner had overheard them discussing a surprise attack on the United States, they decided to hold all three men as prisoners.

It was a nighttime attack on Fort McHenry, and throughout the night, Francis Scott Key kept watch. During the battle, the fort flew the “storm flag”, which Key could see in the light from the exploding rocket barrage. In the dawn’s early light, the U.S. flag was raised, and Key knew that the battle had been won.

Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner on the back of a letter he had in his pocket. Two days later, the three men were released. But it was a long time before The Star-Spangled Banner became the anthem of the United States. It was President Herbert Hoover who signed it into law in 1931.

The Star TANGLED Banner?

The national anthem have been tangled in controversy even before Hendrix’ rendition. Some people think it’s too hard to sing. Others don’t like it because the melody is based on an old English drinking song, Anacreon in Heaven.

Nevertheless, I find it to be a stirring symbol of our freedom and purpose as a nation. I’ve always felt that The Star-Spangled Banner is almost a hymn and as such is rather sacred. And from now on, it will remind me of the heartfelt outpouring of a man about what it means to be free.

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