Singer Whitney Houston's rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV was such a hit that Arista Records is considering releasing the song as a single.
This is just the turn of events that Reggie Jackson, a resident of Northeast Washington, has been hoping for during the last 23 years. Jackson, himself a singer, believes that if you liked the way Houston sang the first verse of the song, you'll love hearing her do the last verse.
Indeed, he insists, that's the best part of the song. And because Congress passed a law in 1931 making the entire "Star-Spangled Banner" our national anthem, it's only right, he says, that we sing the last part too.
There are other neglected verses to the song as well, but it's the last verse that interests Jackson. That verse "represents all of the triumph and confidence of the nation," Jackson says. "It represents hopes and aspirations of a new day. While the first stanza is about the flag and war, the last stanza is about the people and peace. It is a cause for optimism."
Jackson, 63, continues an intensive letter-writing campaign he began in 1968 to educate America about the meaning of the last verse. His efforts have won him much praise for perseverance.
"You are to be commended for your persistence," James Cheek, president emeritus of Howard University, wrote Jackson in 1976.
"You have shown deep-seated concern for the preservation of the National Anthem," Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) wrote in 1977.
"Continue fighting the good fight," Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, wrote Jackson in 1981.
Through the years, those kinds of responses have been enough to keep Jackson going -- if not enough to change the way Americans feel about the last verse of the song.
In 1976, Jackson asked Robert S. Strauss, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, for permission to sing the last verse at President-Elect Jimmy Carter's inauguration. Strauss said no.
In 1981, Jackson asked Tim Swift, chairman of President-Elect Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Ball Entertainment Committee, for permission to sing the last verse at Reagan's inauguration. Swift said no.
Ted Koppel turned Jackson down for a talk show appearance, as had David Susskind in 1975.
But Shirley Chisholm, the former U.S. representative, encouraged him not to give up. "I applaud your commitment," she wrote. Baseball star Reggie Jackson, at Rangel's request, made phone calls supporting Jackson's efforts.
Barbara C. Jordan, the former U.S. representative, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall also encouraged him.
Jackson, who majored in music at Howard University and went on to sing in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, says he came across the last verse of the national anthem while studying the song in 1968. He has sung it at local affairs several times since then, and has always received hearty responses, he says. Last year, before retiring as an usher at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Jackson received a petition signed by members of the National Symphony supporting his "attempt to bring the last stanza out of obscurity."
The main reason the last verse is better than the first, Jackson says, is that the first verse only poses questions.
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
"When Francis Scott Key wrote 'The Star-Spangled Banner' during the War of 1812, he did more than wonder, 'Whose broad stripes and bright stars . . . were so gallantly streaming?' " Jackson said. "He gave us answers that are crucial to truly understanding the song."
The answers come in the last verse:
Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Americans may now be willing to purchase recordings of the questions posed by Francis Scott Key, as sung by Whitney Houston.
But Jackson believes that Key's answers would make for an even better song.
Perhaps Arista will consider them for the flip side of its star-spangled recording.