Most Americans also don't know there are more verses to the anthem, and almost nobody actually remembers what they are. Towards the end, the lyrics seem too patriotic even for red-blooded sports fans. Besides, who wants to listen to more of this crap before the first play?

O SAY, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming;
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;
'Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land,
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.
And this be our motto—"In God is our trust;"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

U.S. national anthem, written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, while he was captive on a British ship outside Fort McHenry. Set to the tune of an old English drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven." (If stone cold sober Americans have trouble singing it, I wonder how bad the drinkers used to sound.)

It's worth noting that this work was originally simply a poem, and was first known as "Defense of Fort M'Henry"; later it was set to the tune mentioned above and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner". The US Congress adopted it as the official National Anthem of the United States of America in 1931.

George Dorn was right when he said that few people know about the other 3 verses. However, if you read the lyrics expressly, you you realize that singing just the first verse is a problem -- the first verse is a question. Only in the second verse is the answer. The question we are asked is:

O Say, can you see by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilights last gleaming?

In a verseful way, what he is asking here is "Can you see what [the flag] we saluted last night before the sun went?", with the lines after describing the flag itself and the odd glimpse of it to be seen through the light of the cannon fire. In the last lines of the second verse, our answer is given:

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam. In full glory reflected now shines on the stream; 'Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave...

In the first rays of the morning sun of September 14th, after a full day of bombardment by British Forces, the soldiers marked that, although tattered and torn, it was still in place. This was a big deal, for it symbolized that the battle was not given over or lost.

History has it that Key wrote this stirring requiem the on the morning of the 14th after a long night of anxiety. Early in the A.M. of the 14th, the British were still shelling Fort McHenry, when suddenly it stopped. Key was 'below deck', and when he heard it stop he knew that could mean only one thing: Fort McHenry had been surrendered. However, what he failed to know was that General Armistead's force had sunk as many as 22 British vessels and so in mid-morning, they (British) had deemed the takeover of Fort McHenry to be too costly and had retreated.

Francis run into the early morning sun, expecting to see the Union Jack flying above his head, but when he gazed at the flagpole, Old Glory was still there in splendor, inspiring his to pen these famous lines if the back of a letter his had in his waistcoat.

Being the Amateur poet that he was, Key made several revisions of the poem, and so many early printings of it may have subtly different wording. It is also because of this that there exists two enshrined copies of the manuscript -- The original writing resides with the Maryland Historical Society, while another hand-written draft rests in the Library of Congress.

The melody for The Star-Spangled Banner dates to around 1779 when the Anacreontic Society decided they needed a theme song. Society President Ralph Tomlinson wrote the words to their new song, To Anacreon In Heaven, and the music is generally ascribed to fellow Society member John Stafford Smith.

If you think that Francis Scott Key didn't have the melody in mind when he wrote Defense of Fort McHenry, think again. Prior to The Star-Spangled Banner, the most popular song in America had been Adams and Liberty; coincidentally set to the same melody, words by Robert Treat Paine and penned in 1798. And in 1806 Key wrote the poem When the Warrior Returns, in honor of an American naval victory over the Barbary pirates, and set *that* poem to the same melody as well.

Defense of Fort McHenry was written on September 14, 1814. The first printing - on handbills - was in the week immediately following. And just one week after it was written the Baltimore American newspaper quoted the verses and marked it: Tune - Anacreon In Heaven. So, the melody was attached to it right from the start. It was first publicly sung on October 19, 1814 and was already being referred to as The Star-Spangled Banner.

...and how to sing it

Many events in professional sports in the United States of America feature a celebrity singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the action begins. Many of these celebrities, including Carl Lewis, make the same mistake at the beginning: they start too high. Then when they get to "the rocket's red glare", they blow up too as they strain to hit the high notes.

If you don't want to have your words turn to bombs bursting in air, here's what to do:

  1. Memorize all four of Key's stanzas.
  2. Before the event, warm up your voice. Sing up and down a major scale covering at least an octave plus a perfect fifth.
  3. Take note of the lowest note (no pun intended) you can hit without using much effort.
  4. If a band will accompany you, inform the conductor of this lowest comfortable note; it will become the key in which the band plays.
  5. Here's the key technique (again, no pun intended): Start one perfect fifth above your lowest comfortable note and descend by a major triad into the first notes of the song. Practice, practice, practice in this key. You're cramming for an exam graded by millions of American viewers.
  6. Now you have built enough confidence to step onto the field and start low enough that you don't burst, so start singing. Because you're not straining at either end of your range, you'll have the stamina to sing all four verses, surprising the American public.

Two questions that people routinely toss back and forth: Is it considered polite to aspirate (insert an H sound in) the first syllable if one of the players is named José? Is it considered polite to make a 'z' sound at the end when playing in Atlanta, Georgia?

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