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#TIL: Five Facts About The Star Spangled Banner

The Star Spangled Banner, which is the very flag which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem, on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C..

by Sean Smith

This weekend America’s national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” written by Francis Scott Key turns 200 years old. So to celebrate, here are five facts about the anthem that you may not have known.

1. The “Star Spangled Banner” was written as a poem about a failed British attack on Fort McHenry in 1814.

In 1814 the United States and Great Britain were in the midst of fighting the “War of 1812.” In August of 1814, British forces captured Washington D.C. and burned a number of government buildings including the United States Capitol and the President’s Mansion, now known as the White House. The British next had plans to march north and capture the city of Baltimore. On September 13, 1814 British ships began a bombardment on Fort McHenry, an American Fort which defended access to the Baltimore Harbor. The attack on Fort McHenry lasted for 25 long hours. The bombardment was witnessed first hand by a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet named Francis Scott Key. On the morning of September 14th, as the bombardment ended on Fort McHenry, Key saw a large American Flag flying over the fort, signaling that the Americans had withstood the British attack. He wrote a poem about these events called “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” Which has now come to be known as “The Star Spangled Banner.”

2. Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner” while witnessing the attack on Fort McHenry from aboard a British ship.

After the British captured Washington D.C., they imprisoned an American civilian named Dr. William Beanes that they charged with aiding in the arrest of British troops. The U.S. sent a representative of the government to go to the British to try and secure the release of Dr. Beanes. The U.S. representative was accompanied by a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key. They negotiated for Dr. Beanes release aboard a British ship which would took part in the attack at Fort McHenry. Before the attack began, Key and his partner were able to negotiate the release of Dr. Beanes. However, the British feared that the Americans had learned too much about the British plans for attack on Fort McHenry while on the ship. Therefore, the British held them on the ship until after the battle took place leading to Francis Scott Key to having a unique view of the failed attack on Fort McHenry from a British ship.

3. The “Star Spangled Banner” was written to the tune of a popular drinking song.

When Francis Scott Key wrote his poem, he did so to the melody of a song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” This song originated from a gentlemen’s club in England called the Anacreontic Society, a social club for amateur musicians. The club, and the song it produced, was in honor of a Greek poet named Anacreon who wrote extensively about the subjects of women and wine.

4. “The Star Spangled Banner” did not become the official national anthem of the U.S. until 1931.

“The Star Spangled Banner” gained popularity with Americans during the 19th Century. During the 1890’s the United States military had begun to use it as a ceremonial song, having it played when raising and lowering the U.S. flag. In the early 1900’s their was a push to have “The Star Spangled Banner” officially designated as the national anthem through congressional legislation. After several attempts, legislation was finally passed and with the signing of the bill by President Herbert Hoover, “The Star Spangled Banner” officially became the national anthem on March 3, 1931.

5. “The Star Spangled Banner” was a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

On January 27, 1991, 10 days after the United States got involved in the Persian Gulf War, Whitney Houston gave a stirring rendition of the national anthem before the start of Super Bowl XXV. The public loved Houston’s rendition so much, the phones at Arista Records, her label at the time, were ringing off the hook asking for the performance to be officially released for purchase. A few weeks later, Houston’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” was released as a single and reached the #20 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Just over a decade later, after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Whitney Houston re-released her 1991 single in an effort to contribute to the healing of the country. The re-release proved to be even more successful than the song’s first release, reaching the #6 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This made a song that Francis Scott Key wrote in 1814 as a poem, a Top 10 hit nearly 200 years later.

If you have learned an interesting music related fact that you would like to share with your fellow Clizbeats readers, feel free to share it with us on twitter (@Clizbeats) or on our Clizbeats Facebook page. You just may see it appear here in the coming weeks.

(Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 4, 2014, but has been slightly modified.)