When it comes to national anthems, the tune, words and history instill pride in the countrymen and women who not only sing them, but also listen in. Even if the song isn;t from your own country, it’s something that you will listen in on and pay respect to. However, there are a few anthems from around the world that are well known outside of the nation of which they reside. Two of the most prominent ones are the British national anthem, God Save the Queen, and the US national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, which are almost instantly recognized in any country. While the British song is a symbol of their pride in the monarchy, the US version was in part based on a drinking song. That’s right, the melody for the Star Spangled Banner came from a drinking song.
Did the melody for the Star Spangled Banner really come from a drinking song?
The history of the words to a Star Spangled Banner is a fairly well known one. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer, author, and poet penned the lyrics during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Baltimore in September 1814, during the War of 1812. Legend has it that after heavy bombardment of the fort, at dawn the next day Key saw the Stars and Stripes still waving above the fort. This inspired him to write a poem that he called “Defense of Fort McHenry.” But it was still only a poem without a melody.
Around the same time, there was a popular British drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” It was the official song of the Anacreontic society, which was a popular gentleman’s club. The club itself was named after Anacreon, a Greek poet who was very well known for writing songs about wine, women, and sex. So not only was the tune popular, it was also catchy.
The words for “Defense of Fort McHenry” were soon added to the British drinking song to form the Star Spangled Banner. But it doesn’t mean that the Star Spangled Banner is itself a drinking song. The words were merely added to a popular song. It officially became the national anthem of the US on March 3, 1931. You can watch the song “To Anacreon in Heaven” below.
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