An ode to America’s theme song, ‘The Star Spangled Banner’

Jimi Hendrix caught mid guitar-break during his performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Jimi Hendrix, mid guitar-break during his performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Quick, which do you know better, the “Saved by the Bell” song or “The Star Spangled Banner”? We asked the one person who would, without question, answer the latter, University of Michigan professor Mark Clague. Clague, who heads up “Star Spangled Music,” an organization created to celebrate the bicentennial of America’s theme song, curated this week’s play list on anthems. “Songs successful enough to become anthems are cries of hope, aspiration and determination,” said Clague. “They not only amplify communal pride but propel a common search to discover who we are as people, a nation, a community.” Score one for “The Star Spangled Banner.”

1. “The Anacreontic Song” – Ralph Tomlinson (words) and John Stafford Smith (music)

“Written around 1775, this tune began as an English gentleman’s club song. Think four-part harmony, harpsichord, and bromance—all energized by a tip of rum punch.”

2. ” Hail Columbia” — Joseph Hopkinson (words), Philip Phile (music)

“In 1798, when this song was written, ‘Columbia’ equaled ‘America,’ i.e., that place Christopher Columbus ‘discovered.’ If not for the loser title this might have been our national anthem.”

3. “The Union, Op. 48″ — Louis Moreau Gottschalk

“This is a patriotic piano remix as a virtuoso tour de force by America’s first international keyboard export and heartthrob.”

4. “Festival Overture on the American National Air” — Dudley Buck

“A national orchestral romp by one of America’s most forgotten but influential classical composers of the 19th century.”

5. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — James Weldon Johnson (words) and J. Rosamond Johnson (music)

“A powerful anthem of equality’s dream known as the African American national hymn or anthem.”

6. “The Star Spangled Banner” – Igor Stravinsky (arranger)

“This arrangement got the Russian composer in hot water for ‘revising’ the anthem, but is just a gorgeous orchestration honoring the nation that gave the composer safe harbor and then citizenship.”

7. “The Star Spangled Banner” – Jimi Hendrix 

“Hendrix’s 1968 San Francisco performance — one year before Woodstock — makes that more famous version seem pretty tame.”

8. ” The Star Spangeled Banner” — Whitney Houston

“A riveting performance that kicked off Super Bowl XXV in support of U.S. troops, which included my brother-in-law, in Iraq.”

9. “Letter to Mrs. Bixby” — Michael Daugherty (composer)

“Composed by Daughtery to evoke the emotional setting of a Civil War letter from Abraham Lincoln, intoned by the great American baritone Thomas Hampson.”

10. “The Star-Spangled Banner” — Thomas Carr 1814 (200 years ago!)

“The original version as Francis Scott Key might have heard it – uptempo and with a repeating chorus! We won, huzzah!”

Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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