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Something interesting has happened on (just about) every day of the year, and Daily TWiP provides the proof. An offshoot of my local events column The Week in Preview (affectionately known as TWiP), Daily TWiP was published April 2008-Aug. 2011 and is still giving readers reasons to celebrate.

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Daily TWiP – March 3, 1931: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” set to the tune of an English drinking song, becomes the U.S. national anthem

On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional resolution that made Maryland resident Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United States of America.

It is relatively common knowledge that the anthem’s lyrics were taken from Key’s poem “Defence of Fort McHenry,” which Key penned after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The slightly bawdy history of the tune to which “The Star-Spangled Banner” is set, on the other hand, is not quite as well known.

Originally titled “The Anacreontic Song,” it was composed in the mid-1760s by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a gentleman’s club in London made up of amateur musicians. The Society was named after the Greek court poet Anacreon, whose favorite topics included wine, women and entertainment.

Although the purpose of the Society was to encourage an interest in the musical arts, their club song (what with its references to Bacchus, the god of wine, and Venus, the goddess of love) soon became popular as a drinking song.

According to the rather unreliable annals of tavern culture, “The Anacreontic Song” was also used as a sobriety test. Since the melody was challenging to sing and covered an octave and a half, pub patrons figured that if you could sing a stanza of the song and keep relatively in tune, you were O.K. to have another drink.

Speaking of drinking establishments, the first public performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” actually took place in a tavern. Actor Ferdinand Durang sang what would become the United States’ national anthem at Captain McCauley’s tavern in Baltimore in October of 1814, just one month after Key had written the lyrics and mere weeks after the lyrics (with mention of the tune) had been published in the Baltimore newspapers.

The popularity of “The Star-Spangled Banner” continued to grow, with various politicians requesting it be played on official occasions. It was even used to open sporting events as early as 1897.

When Robert Ripley, creator of the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” cartoon strip, published a cartoon saying, “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem,” on Nov. 3, 1929, it was clear that there was only one logical choice. The congressional resolution naming “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the U.S. national anthem arrived on President Hoover’s desk less than two years later, and he happily signed it.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published March 3, 2010.

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