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The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “To Anacreon in Heaven” (or “The Anacreontic Song”), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. This setting, renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, soon became a well-known U.S. patriotic song. With a range of 19 semitones, it is known for being very difficult to sing. Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was first recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889. In 1931, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution (46 Stat. 1508) making the song the official national anthem of the United States, which President Herbert Hoover signed into law. The resolution is now codified at .

Early history

Francis Scott Key’s lyrics

On September 2, 1814, from his home in Georgetown, F. S. Key wrote to his parents. The letter to his mother ended with:

It was aboard HMS Tonnant, after dinner, that Skinner and Key successfully secured the release of Dr Beanes from Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane. At first, Ross refused to release Beanes but relented after reading letters, brought by Key, written by wounded British prisoners praising the American doctors for their kind treatment. Because Key and Skinner had overheard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, several days later.

An artist’s rendering of the battle at Fort McHenry

John Stafford Smith’s music

One of two surviving copies of the 1814 broadside printing of the “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, a poem that later became the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States

The song gained popularity throughout the 19th century and bands played it during public events, such as Independence Day celebrations.

Modern history

Crowd performing the U.S. national anthem before a baseball game at Coors Field

The song is notoriously difficult for nonprofessionals to sing because of its wide range – a twelfth. Humorist Richard Armour referred to the song’s difficulty in his book It All Started With Columbus:

200th anniversary celebrations


O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Additional Civil War period lyrics

When our land is illumined with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained, who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

References in film, television, literature

Customs and federal law

Plaque detailing how the custom of standing during the U.S. national anthem came about in Tacoma, Washington, on October 18, 1893, in the Bostwick building



1968 Olympics Black Power salute

Protests against racism and police brutality (2016–present)

California chapter of the NAACP call to remove the national anthem


Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians sing The Star-Spangled Banner in 1942

Instrumental recording by the United States Navy Band

See also

  • God Bless America
  • In God We Trust
  • Lift Every Voice and Sing“, which many consider the Black National Anthem[113]

Further reading

  • Christgau, Robert (August 13, 2019). “Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ is the anthem we need in the age of Trump”. Los Angeles Times.
  • Clague, Mark (2022). O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. W. W. Norton. ISBN 9780393651393.
  • Ferris, Marc. Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. ISBN 9781421415185. OCLC 879370575.
  • Key, Francis Scott (April 24, 1857). “Poems of the late Francis S. Key, Esq., author of ‘The Star spangled banner’: with and introductory letter by Chief Justice Taney”. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers – via Internet Archive. (The letter from Chief Justice Taney tells the history behind the writing of the poem written by Francis Scott Key)
  • Leepson, Marc. What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, a Life. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. ISBN 9781137278289. OCLC 860395373.

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:

  • “New book reveals the dark history behind the Star Spangled Banner”, CBS This Morning, September 13, 2014 (via YouTube).
  • “Star-Spangled History: 5 Facts About the Making of the National Anthem”, Biography.com.
  • ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ writer had a complex record on race”, Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun, July 26, 2014.
  • The Man Behind the National Anthem Paid Little Attention to It“. NPR’s Here and Now, July 4, 2017.
  • Star-Spangled Banner (Memory)—American Treasures of the Library of Congress exhibition
  • “How the National Anthem Has Unfurled; ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ Has Changed a Lot in 200 Years” by William Robin. June 27, 2014, The New York Times, p. AR10.
  • TV tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Star-Spangled Banner exhibitC-SPAN, American History, May 15, 2014


In the early modern period, some European monarchies adopted royal anthems. Some of these anthems have survived into current use. “God Save the King/Queen“, first performed in 1619, remains the royal anthem of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms. La Marcha Real, adopted as the royal anthem of the Spanish monarchy in 1770, was adopted as the national anthem of Spain in 1939. Denmark retains its royal anthem, Kong Christian stod ved højen mast (1780) alongside its national anthem (Der er et yndigt land, adopted 1835). In 1802, Gia Long commissioned a royal anthem in the European fashion for the Kingdom of Vietnam.

A number of nations remain without an official national anthem adopted de iure. In these cases, there are established de facto anthems played at sporting events or diplomatic receptions. These include the United Kingdom (God Save the King) and Sweden (Du gamla, Du fria). Countries that have moved to officially adopt de iure their long-standing de facto anthems since the 1990s include: Luxembourg (, adopted 1993), South Africa (National anthem of South Africa, adopted 1997), Israel (, composed 1888, de facto use from 1948, adopted 2004) and Italy (Il Canto degli Italiani, composed 1847, de facto use from 1946, adopted 2017).


Star-Spangled Banner with the American flag (ca. 1940s). Anthems used during sign-on and sign-off sequences have become less common due to the increasing prevalence of 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week broadcasting.

National anthems are used in a wide array of contexts. Certain etiquette may be involved in the playing of a country’s anthem. These usually involve military honours, standing up, removing headwear etc. In diplomatic situations the rules may be very formal. There may also be royal anthems, presidential anthems, state anthems etc. for special occasions.


Rouget de Lisle performing “La Marseillaise” for the first time

Most of the best-known national anthems were written by little-known or unknown composers such as Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, composer of “La Marseillaise” and John Stafford Smith who wrote the tune for “The Anacreontic Song“, which became the tune for the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“. The author of “God Save the King”, one of the oldest and best-known anthems in the world, is unknown and disputed.

Very few countries have a national anthem written by a world-renowned composer. Exceptions include Germany, whose anthem “Das Lied der Deutschen” uses a melody written by Joseph Haydn, and Austria, whose national anthem “Land der Berge, Land am Strome” is sometimes credited to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The “Anthem of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic” was composed by Aram Khachaturian. The music of the “Pontifical Anthem“, anthem of the Vatican City, was composed in 1869 by Charles Gounod, for the golden jubilee of Pope Pius IX‘s priestly ordination.

The committee charged with choosing a national anthem for the Federation of Malaya (later Malaysia) at independence decided to invite selected composers of international repute to submit compositions for consideration, including Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Gian Carlo Menotti and Zubir Said, who later composed “Majulah Singapura“, the national anthem of Singapore. None were deemed suitable. The tune eventually selected was (and still is) the anthem of the constituent state of Perak, which was in turn adopted from a popular French melody titled “La Rosalie” composed by the lyricist Pierre-Jean de Béranger.

A few anthems have words by Nobel laureates in literature. The first Asian laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote the words and music of “Jana Gana Mana” and “Amar Shonar Bangla“, later adopted as the national anthems of India and Bangladesh respectively. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote the lyrics for the Norwegian national anthem “Ja, vi elsker dette landet“.

Other countries had their anthems composed by locally important people. This is the case for Colombia, whose anthem’s lyrics were written by former president and poet Rafael Nuñez, who also wrote the country’s first constitution, and in Malta, written by Dun Karm Psaila, already a National Poet. A similar case is Liberia, the national anthem of which was written by its third president, Daniel Bashiel Warner.

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