Happy July 4th! Weekend Open Thread   Leave a comment

15 star American flag(hat tip to Wikipedia for the pic)

Enjoy your weekend open thread (remember, U.S. markets are closed tomorrow), where you can talk about anything you like.

In continuing my “summer of one-hit wonders” theme, today I will cover a one hit wonder in the lyric-writing category: Francis Scott Key. According to Wikipedia, Key “was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”.” That one song was the only thing for which he was remembered.

The song itself has an interesting history:

On September 3, 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro and a friend of Key’s who had been captured in his home. Beanes was accused of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.

Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise and later back on HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city’s last line of defense.

During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s smaller “storm flag” continued to fly, but once the shell and Congreve rocket[4] barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. By then, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised.

During the bombardment, HMS Erebus provided the “rockets’ red glare”. HMS Meteor provided at least some of the “bombs bursting in air”.

Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort. This flag, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, had been made by Mary Young Pickersgill together with other workers in her home on Baltimore’s Pratt Street. The flag later came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag and is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a treasure of the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored in 1914 by Amelia Fowler, and again in 1998 as part of an ongoing conservation program.

Aboard the ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on September 16, he and Skinner were released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and titled it “Defence of Fort M’Henry”.

Much of the idea of the poem, including the flag imagery and some of the wording, is derived from an earlier song by Key, also set to the tune of The Anacreontic Song. The song, known as “When the Warrior Returns”, was written in honor of Stephen Decatur and Charles Stewart on their return from the First Barbary War.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

The first time the song was ever released as a single and reached #50 on the U.S. charts, was a version done by José Feliciano at the beginning of a 1968 World Series game:

The next memorable version was the one by Jimi Hendrix, played in 1969 at Woodstock:

However, all versions pale before the one performed by Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Even though it occurred several weeks after the start of “Desert Storm”, the first major U.S. military operation since Vietnam, the song was performed to perfection, and remains the standard by which all versions of the National Anthem get measured. While it only reached number 20 on the U.S. charts when it was initially released, it was re-released after 9/11, and reached number 6 on the U.S. charts, and even reached number 5 in Canada:

(I apologize for the beginning titles on this video, specifically for the “just a woman” comment, which I consider unnecessarily sexist. However, the rest of the video serves it’s purpose.)

Enjoy your 4th of July weekend folks, and I will be back next week.


Posted July 3, 2014 by edmcgon in Music, Open Thread

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