Where did the Star Spangled Banner Come From?

Star-Spangled-Banner-Flag-Smithsonian.jpg

In America, we love our flag so much, that the national anthem spends less time talking about the nation itself, and more about literally singing the praises of the flag. Fair enough. It's iconic, and recognizable for better or worse throughout the modern world.

We often hear the story of Francis Scott Key penning the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner while watching the flag raise over Baltimore, still waving while Fort McHenry was being attacked by the British in the War of 1812. Key was so moved by this beautiful symbolism of American strength and perseverance while under attack, that he set to writing the lyrics immediately.

But where did the tune come from?

Lots of songwriters start their creative process with the lyrics, basically writing a measured poem and constructing music around it, or in some cases, borrowing a tune from an existing song with the same number of beats. You may have noticed that "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is the same tune as the song many of us use to memorize our ABC's, or how "My Country 'Tis of Thee" sounds just like "God Save the Queen".

Key had a certain preexisting tune in mind as he wrote the lyrics to what would become the United States national anthem.

The tune was written a few decades earlier in the 1770's by members of the Anacreontic Society, a group of well-to-do British men, each with prestigious medical, legal, and otherwise venerable professions. On the side, a lot of these guys were amateur musicians, so they'd meet regularly to play music and talk about heady topics of the day, but also to get sloshed with their buddies.

hogarth.jpg

The Anacreontic Society took their name from Anacreon, a Greek poet from the 6th Century B.C., famous for being wine enthusiast, and a writer of...erotic poetry.

Inspired by Anacreon's poetic hedonism, these gentlemen named their club after the original party animal and set to writing a drinking song about him. Over the next few decades "To Anacreon in Heaven" became THE song to sing on a night out with your crew and became a popular tune throughout the English-speaking world, including the Americas. 

As Francis Scott Key inked his quill in Baltimore in 1814, ready to compose a patriotic masterpiece, he had a British drinking song on the brain.

Here's the song in action:

Lyrics to the first couple verses:

To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent in a petition
That he their Inspirer and patron would be;
When this answer arriv’d from the Jolly Old Grecian
Voice, fiddle and flute,
no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And, besides, I’ll instruct you, like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.

Ye Sons of Anacreon, then join hand in hand;
Preserve unanimity, friendship and love!
’Tis yours to support what’s so happily plann’d;
You’ve the sanction of Gods and the fiat of Jove.
While thus we agree
Our toast let it be:
May our club flourish happy, united and free!
And long may the sons of Anacreon intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.

So, on this, the most patriotic of holidays in America, remember–while you reverently stand at attention for the national anthem, hand on heart and saluting the flag like a sacred artifact–that around the time this great nation came to be, British men sung this very tune while getting turnt and picking up chicks.

Joking aside, Happy Independence Day, everyone! Stay safe tonight, while you honor America, whether or not you honor Anacreon as well in the process.

Do America proud–while supporting this blog–and watch something patriotic tonight by following the links below!