Even before Congress declared “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official anthem of the United States in 1931, its complicated melody and soaring pitches were controversial.
The composition, argued the Music Supervisors National Conference in 1930 (now the National Association for Music Education), “was too difficult a musical composition to be rendered properly by schoolchildren, informal gatherings and public meetings where the singing of the national anthem [is] appropriate,” according to a 1930 New York Times article.
Although Francis Scott Key penned the words in 1814 during the War of 1812, the melody is actually much older. It’s based off an 18th-century British pub song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” That’s right: a song to be sung whilst drunk. Listen here (audio, and inspiration for this post, via the National Museum of American History).
The song had been the de facto anthem since President Wilson ordered it played at military events. But many were not happy with merely codifying what had become complacency. A 1927 New York Times editorial, “Wanted, A National Anthem,” voiced the common concerns. (Find more historical Times shade-throwing here.)
Both the words and the tune of that song are admittedly unsuitable for the purpose of a national anthem; and their acceptance is a strange instance of the hit-or-miss fashion in which a national anthem is sometimes made. The verses by Francis Scott Key describe a comparatively unimportant incident of the War of 1812.
It then goes on to explain why “To Anacreon in Heaven” is an unsuitable melody:
It is too elaborate in structure for a popular anthem, and is likewise of such a wide compass as to be singable by a mixed assembly only with some difficulty.
The Times preferred a song that could be more easily sung in “a fit of enthusiasm” — although, if a drinking song isn’t meant to be sung in fits of enthusiasm, what is?
Many patriotic songs in the American playlist have origins in recycled tunes. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” has its melodic roots in a folk song, “John Brown’s Body.” “My Country Tis of Thee” is a direct rip of “God Save the Queen,” the British national anthem. This historical remixing underscores a sense of America as a melting pot, that old ideas turn new (although sometimes that appropriation is for the worse).
“The Star-Spangled Banner” may be tough to sing, but when it’s sung correctly, it makes for a transcendent, powerful moment.
What We're Following See More »
"Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he expected to reveal his vice presidential pick sometime in July—before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland—but added that he would soon announce a committee to handle the selection process, which would include Dr. Ben Carson." He said he's inclined to name a traditional political figure, unlike himself.
"Groups have flocked to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to ask for last-minute changes" to the Department of Labor's new overtime rules, which would require that businesses pay overtime to any salaried employee making more than $50,440 per year, up from the current $23,660. Business interests, as well as some nonprofits, say the move could lead to mass change in workers' statuses, from salaried to hourly. "The White House office held 22 meetings on the proposal in April, according to its calendar, and groups say more meetings are planned this week." Last month, National Journal's Alex Brown reported on how the change might affect Washington.
Republican gun-for-hire Ed Rollins is hopping on the bandwagon, er, the Great America PAC, "an outside group that’s supporting Trump. ... Rollins isn’t the only GOP mainstay coming around to Trump. In recent days, Republican veterans including Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have expressed an openness to him."
John Kasich is apparently the last domino to fall on the GOP side. NBC is reporting he's suspending his presidential campaign. His path to the Republican nomination seemed all but impossible—even at a contested convention—but he may have finally given up. The Washington Examiner reports Kasich has canceled a press conference at Dulles Airport, "and will instead hold one in Columbus, Ohio, at 5 p.m."
"As Donald Trump captures the mantle of presumptive Republican nominee, a new poll finds he begins his general election campaign well behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. The new CNN/ORC Poll, completed ahead of Trump's victory last night, found Clinton leads 54% to 41%, a 13-point edge over the New York businessman, her largest lead since last July. Clinton is also more trusted than Trump on many issues voters rank as critically important, with one big exception. By a 50% to 45% margin, voters say Trump would do a better job handling the economy than Clinton would."