Star-Spangled Banner Celebrates 200th Anniversary

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posted on June 14, 2014
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This Saturday, June 14, Americans will have a special reason to raise the Star Spangled Banner and sing its song. Flag Day 2014 marks the bicentennial of our national anthem, inspired by the banner raised at "the dawn's early light" on Sept. 14, 1814 over Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. The raising of the Stars and Stripes that day signaled that the fort had withstood a relentless 25-hour bombardment by British forces during the War of 1812.

Lawyer Francis Scott Key was helping facilitate a prisoner trade between the British and Americans when the Battle of Baltimore broke out near Ft. McHenry, according to Jennifer Jones, curator for Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. While on an American truce ship, Key observed the bombardment of the fort from afar. The following morning he saw the American flag was still flying, inspiring a verse he titled "Defence of Fort M'Henry." The words were set to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven," a melody widely used by lyricists at the time. Later at his hotel, Key scribbled a total of four verses, though only the first is sung today.

"Within a week he had the lyrics copied and handed out to every member of the defenders of Ft. McHenry," Jones said. Key's lyrics grew in popularity over the years, eventually becoming the song most often played at the raising of the U.S. flag. The anthem's first appearance at a sporting event was at the 1918 World Series. In the late 1920s, bandleader John Philip Sousa became part of the growing movement to find a national anthem for the country, throwing his support to "Banner." President Herbert Hoover made it official in 1931.

What remains of the Fort McHenry flag made by Mary Pickersgill using English wool bunting for the stripes, cotton for the stars and linen for the hoist edge is displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

In recognition of the 200th Anniversary, the Smithsonian will stage an event at the National Mall in Washington, which will be webcast over a 90-minute period.The live concert webcast on Saturday, June 14, will include performances by guitarist Kristen Capolino, Little Bit a Blues, a 400-person choir, The United States Air Force Concert Band, and the official chorus of the U.S. Air Force, the Singing Sergeants.

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