‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at 200: Best, worst versions

Francis Scott Key wrote the poem on Sept. 14, 1814 -- 200 years ago

People look at the original Star Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem, inside a protective chamber at the National Museum of American History in Washington, Nov. 21, 2008 (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
People look at the original Star Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem, inside a protective chamber at the National Museum of American History in Washington, Nov. 21, 2008 (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — It’s an old joke: the last two words of the National Anthem are “Play ball.”

This undated handout photo provided by the Maryland Historical Society shows Francis Scott Key's poem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." (AP Photo/The Maryland Historical Society, File)
This undated handout photo provided by the Maryland Historical Society shows Francis Scott Key’s poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (AP Photo/The Maryland Historical Society, File)

It was 200 years ago — September 14, 1814 — that Francis Scott Key was inspired to begin writing the poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” after witnessing how an American flag flying over the Maryland fort had withstood a night of British bombardment during the War of 1812.

That poem later became the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Although the phrase “Star-Spangled” was made famous through Francis Scott Key’s text, historian Marc Ferris said first references in literature were made much earlier: William Shakespeare twice used the turn of phrase.

In 1889, the Navy recognized it for official use, then by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. But it wasn’t until March 3, 1931 it was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution and signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Historians said the first sporting event at which “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played was an 1862 baseball game in Brooklyn. It was later played at the World Series in Boston in 1903.

For years, the anthem was performed with little variation by bands, orchestras and singers.

Things began to change in 1968 when Jose Feliciano set off a firestorm with his acoustic-guitar interpretation of the National Anthem before Game 5 of the World Series in Detroit.

That was nothing compared to what Jimi Hendrix did a year later at Woodstock.

Perhaps the gold standard of National Anthem renditions is Whitney Houston’s version at the 1991 Super Bowl. It came just days after the first Gulf War began.

Beyonce also turned in a stellar rendition at President Barack Obama’s second inauguaration in 2012 — although she got some flak because it was pre-recorded.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is not the easiest song to sing. Singers often forget or mangle the words, some just aren’t very good at it, and some — like Roseanne Barr — intentionally did it terribly.

So wherever you are when you hear the National Anthem, remember how it was born: an American diplomat held captive on a British ship during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. He saw the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air — 200 years ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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