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The Evolution of the Star Spangled Banner

March 3, 2021 marks the 90th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner’s” adoption as our national anthem, thanks in large part to John Charles Linthicum, a Maryland congressman who spent 12 years working to convince members of Congress to enact legislation.

This is an evolution of arrangements of the Star-Spangled Banner over the past 225 years. This evolution will look at arrangements of the Star-Spangled Banner, not the solo renditions by vocalists.
You can read about bad vocal renditions in the article The Star Mangled Banner BY CLICKING HERE

The “Star-Spangled Banner” has been the topic of performance interpretation since it has came back into the public consciousness after 911. Numerous performances and recordings of the anthem has lead one to ask if there is United States code for the performance of the song. As we all know, the anthem was a poem written by Francis Scott Key during the failed attack on Fort McHenry in September 1814 and was set to the tune Anacreon in Heaven  The composition captured the spirit of the country. During the Civil War it was used as a national air along with “Hail Columbia”, “Columbia, The Gem of The Ocean” and “Yankee Doodle”. In 1889 the secretary of the Navy designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag. Around this time John Philip Sousa (the American composer and bandmaster) arranged the tune in a collection of world national anthems and airs to be used at official government functions. Although there is an indication that Sousa favored “Hail Columbia”as our national anthem he became a strong supporter of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and lived long enough to see it become our official national anthem in 1931.

Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) composed the poem that became “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sept. 14, 1814, after witnessing the massive overnight British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor, a key assault during the War of 1812. Key, a lawyer, watched the siege while being detained aboard ship by British sailors. He penned the words after observing, with shock and awe, that the flag “with its 15 stars and 15 stripes”  had survived the nearly 1,800-bomb assault.

A little history on Anacreon in Heaven. The song was written for a  London social club for gentlemen that met every other week for formal concerts, dinner and social time which included singing catches, glees and assuming songs. Founder Ralph Tomilson wrote a poem that was set to music for the club by a church organist and composer named John Stafford Smith

First published version of the Star-Spangled Banner in Baltimore

An early instrumental version is found in the Library of Congress. This instrumental version comes from our good friends at the Library of Congress dates from 1832 and was from the band at the US Military Academy at West Point. Scored for the wind bands of the late 18th and early 19th century. These groups were called hautbois (Oboe) Bands The instrumentation of 1800 — 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, two horns, and a drum — was influenced by Harmoniemusik and European military practice. This version is scored for 2 Flutes, 2 Clarinets, Oboe, Bassoon, 2 Horns, Trumpet, and Sax Horn.

During the Civil War, The Star-Spangled Banner was one of many “national airs,” along with pieces like Yankee Doodle, Red, White and Blue, and Hail Columbia. The arrangement by Civil War composer and arranger Claudio Grafulla comes from the Port Royal band books of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment Band.

John Philip Sousa’s arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the manner of the Tannhäuser Overture, written for the Chicago World’s Fair. Sousa was adapting older material here; his International Congress Fantasy, an elaborate fantasia on national airs composed for Jacques Offenbach’s concerts at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, ends with much the same music. Sousa was young and little known at that time, and his slyly Wagnerian take on the future national anthem was eclipsed by the famously mediocre and expensive Centennial March that Wagner himself penned for the occasion. There are many more Wagnerian oddities from the early days of recording in the Library of Congress Jukebox, as I’ve pointed out before; perhaps the oddest is Sousa’s attempt at perking up the apocalyptic transformation music from Act III of Parsifal. “My two most popular pieces are the ‘Tannhäuser Overture’ and the ‘Stars and Stripes,’” Sousa said in 1899. “Wagner was a brass band man, anyway.”

Festival Overture on the Star Spangled Banner by Dudley Buck

In 1879, one of America’s leading American composers—Dudley Buck (a name often neglected today)—wrote a Festival Overture to celebrate Independence Day. The seven-minute piece for full orchestra (with optional chorus) was based on the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” or what the composer called the “American National Air.” Both the national music festival and Key’s patriotic song had long offered winning strategies for Buck, one of America’s pioneering classical composers whose career predates the cultural institutions, universities, and professional orchestras that would more effectively support future generations of American composers.

The video starts at the Star Spangled Banner:

The Star-Spangled Banner Damrosch-Sousa version In the spring of 1917 several of the most prominent musicians in the United States, including the bandleader John Philip Sousa, the orchestral conductor Walter Damrosch, and the scholar Oscar Sonneck, joined together in a fruitless effort to establish a standardized version of “The Star-Spangled Banner. It was richly harmonized in 1917 by Walter Damrosch and skillfully arranged by John Philip Sousa. This Ab version remains one of the most standard and sing-able arrangements of our National Anthem.

On March 3, 1932 President Herbert C. Hoover signed the Act establishing Key’s poem and Smith’s music as the official anthem of the United States. This adoption as our national anthem came thanks in large part to John Charles Linthicum, a Maryland congressman who spent 12 years working to convince members of Congress to enact legislation.

John Charles Linthicum

The effort to make the Star-Spangled Banner the official National Anthem of the United States began with the United States Daughters of 1812. The effort was spearheaded by Baltimore native Ella Virginia Houck Holloway (Mrs. Reuben Ross Holloway)
You can read more about her and her efforts by CLICKING HERE

Ella Virginia Houck Holloway

The US Code 36, section 301 spells out regulations for the anthem and covers conduct during the playing. The code, however, did not specify an official text or musical arrangement, but left room for creative arrangements and interpretations. Therein lies the situation with performances today. Since there is no real code the anthem has been open to stylistic versions. These should be defined by the limits of custom and good taste but certainly some have pushed the envelope.

A version of the Star-Spangled Banner for symphony was done by Ferde Grofé (arranger of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and composer of The Grand Canyon Suite). It was written in 1932 to be part of the elaborate, celebrity-studded opening of Radio City Music Hall in December 1932.

More about this piece can be found BY CLICKING HERE

The Star-Spangled Banner . Arranged by Ferde Grofe

In 1939, Igor Stravinsky emigrated to the United States, first arriving in New York City, before settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he delivered the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard during the 1939-40 academic year. While living in Boston, the composer conducted the Boston Symphony and, on one famous occasion, he decided to conduct his own arrangement of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which he made out a “desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism in this country.” The date was January, 1944. And he was, of course, referring to America’s role in World War II.

More can be found BY CLICKING HERE

In 1942 a National Anthem committee outlined some performance practices to be observed. It states, “It is inappropriate to make or use sophisticated “concert” versions of the National Anthem.” It also suggested the harmonic, tempo, rhythmic values and key. This version can be found in many community songbooks and hymnals as the “service version” of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Here is a link to that the 1942 Code for the performance of the anthem: 1942 CODE

During the 1940s the Star-Spangled Banner was widely recorded by orchestras and military bands. As was the custom and by protocol the music was preceded by the announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen, our National Anthem.”

U.S. National Anthem performed by the United States Military Academy Band in a theatrical trailer.

A patriotic version of the Star-Spangled Banner by Fred Waring Pennsylvanians

Henry Fillmore (1881-1956) did a “Trumpeting Arrangement” for marching band

DoD Arrangement Standard Military version. This is the version adopted in the 1950s for all U.S. military bands to perform. Not all the military bands use this arrangement.

The Star-Spangled Banner DoD version Played by the U.S. Marine Band

The Jimi Hendrix 1969 version is included because I think it’s a interesting interpretation. While not an arrangement for an ensemble I believe it deserves a mention.

The Star Spangled Banner performed by the Band of the Coldstream Guards on the occasion of 9-11.

In a break from traditional protocol, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain ordered the change to the daily ceremonial parade to show solidarity with the United States in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Prince Andrew, representing his mother, was joined by the US ambassador to Britain, William Farish, for the 45-minute ceremony. As the band of the Coldstream Guards began the US national anthem hundreds in the crowd sang along while others wept, before observing a two-minute silence. An incredible moment for both nations

Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner Arranged by John Clayton
Houston’s version of the national anthem created a stir when it was performed at the Super Bowl. The rich modern harmonies plus the meter change were to become the standard for arrangements for many pop singers.

Here is how it came about from the Facebook page of the arranger, John Clayton.

Notes from the arranger–Me Thank you, Friends. I mean that. I’ve been hearing about the groundswell of supportive comments, acknowledging my work and uplifting me. It’s time that I chime in and share with you some background re how the SSB arrangement came to be.

THE FIRST PART A couple of months before the 1991 Super Bowl, Rickey Minor, my friend, fellow bassist and music director for Whitney Houston at the time, called me and said, “Hey, we’re going to do the national anthem at the Super Bowl. They’re giving us a symphony orchestra and we want you to do the arrangement.” It sounded exciting and fun, and I’d never done anything as widely viewed before. “Just 2 things—can you do it in 4/4 time instead of 3/4? Also, if you can set up some kind of groove in the orchestra percussion section.” I could do that. The orchestra was in Tampa and there wasn’t enough in the budget to fly me from Los Angeles to witness and help at the rehearsal (Really? NFL? Not enough budget? Oh well). Rickey would go and be there for the rehearsal of my chart. I waited all day to hear something. I had to go out that afternoon and when I came back, there was a message on my machine: “Uhm…Mr. Clayton, this is the Florida Symphony and we rehearsed your arrangement today. We have some, er…uhh…concerns. We’re actually considering using a more traditional arrangement of the piece. Could you please call us back?” With eyes wide, I basically screamed “Noooooooooo!!!!!!”I called Rickey.“It’s cool. It sounds fine. They’re going to record it, I’ll work on them. Don’t worry.” So, they did record it and all of the planets aligned and Whitney was amazing and, and, and…I grew up. Or, I was GROWN up by the experience.

THE SECOND PART When I called the record label, after hearing our version would be released as a single, I wanted to discuss my royalty. Since it was a song in the public domain, I had copyrighted my arrangement. The person I spoke to at the label said he was “planning” to give me a call (yeah. sure) because they wanted me to sign away my royalty. The label would be donating royalties to the Gulf War effort. I thanked him and let him know that I would prefer to choose how I would donate my money and could you just please send me a normal royalties contract? His reply, “We’re not going to do that. And what can you do? Sue me? So, sue me.” I reiterate, this experience GREW me up. I contacted an entertainment lawyer who was recommended by a friend and film writer. In the end (and I’m really shortening the story here), I decided to give them my royalty (insert your loud, unison “WHAT???!!!”). To further explain, I was a young man in my 30’s with 2 small kids, just found a house we could afford, and was I putting food on the table, gig by gig. Going up against a major label?—They would have kept me in court forever, swatted me around like an insect and sucked every drop of blood from me. Goodbye house, car, perhaps sanity. In the end, I was/am fine. I missed out on some nice money. So what? I found other opportunities for money. I found more and more chances to write, play and record. I’m over it.

My family is amazing. My kids are grown, happy and making a difference in the world. I let it go. No animosity, a huge life lesson learned, an enormous business lesson learned as well, and I’m good.That includes whatever Rickey Minor did or didn’t say in the TV interview/program. I actually haven’t seen the pre-game program that didn’t give me any props. Sure; if I would have heard them, I would enjoy the nod. Ha!—My ego likes the strokes! Positive energy is good and I’ll take it.So, thank you for sticking up for me. I appreciate it more than you can know! With what I’ve been through lately, here’s another example of you having my back. I’m flattered and grateful.Was it Toni Morrison—Maya Angelou?—someone succinctly said what I feel (and I’m paraphrasing)“The people who need awards, they should have them.” When I heard that, it humbled me up real quick.

John Williams conducts the National Symphony Orchestra, the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the Joint Armed Forces Chorus and the Choral Arts Society of Washington in performing his new arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for its 200th anniversary. “A Capitol Fourth” Independence Day celebration concert in Washington DC, July 4th, 2014.

For more information on the adoption of the Star-Spangled Banner as our national anthem:

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