Band Music of Alton Augustus Adams Now Available

Portrait of Alton Augustus AdamsAlton Augustus Adams (1889–1987) was a pioneering performer, composer, educator, and writer who advanced the band culture of the Virgin Islands. A flutist and piccolo player, he founded the Adams Juvenile Band in 1910, teaching each of its musicians and drilling the ensemble to such a professional standard that the unit was inducted as a group into the U.S. Navy as its first and only African-American ensemble in 1917. The band served as a social and cultural bridge between the all-white naval administration of the islands and its community, which was primarily of African descent. This was a significant development in military history as previously, racist practices in the U.S. Navy limited African American servicemen to roles as cooks or valets for officers.

The Virgin Islands March is the territorial anthem of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Inspired in part by his admiration for John Philip Sousa and Edwin Franko Goldman, Adams composed marches for his ensemble. Three of these marches were published in his lifetime—The Virgin Islands March (1919), The Governor’s Own (1921), and Spirit of the U.S.N. [United States Navy] (1924). The Star Spangled Music Foundation is pleased to make the two earlier marches—which are in the Public Domain—available in reliable, scholarly editions. Scores are available for free download here and parts can be readily obtained for free by emailing the editor, Mark Clague, at

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Abolitionist Star Spangled Banner —”Oh Say, Do You Hear?” (1844)

In the 19th-century, the music and words known today as the national anthem of the United States —”The Star-Spangled Banner”—was deeply associated with American identity but just one of many patriotic songs. All of America’s patriotic songs were part of an ongoing cultural dialogue known as the broadside ballad tradition. New lyrics were  written to these traditional tunes and published in newspapers. The alloy of new words and well known patriotic music might create a presidential campaign song or be used to

Verse 1 of E. A. Atlee's Star-Spangled Banner anti-slavery lyric labeled "A New National Anthem" (Signal of Liberty, July 22, 1844, p. 1)

Verse 1 of E. A. Atlee’s Star-Spangled Banner anti-slavery lyric labeled “A New National Anthem” (Signal of Liberty, July 22, 1844, p. 1)

celebrate  a holiday like the Fourth of July. They might also express social protest to comment on issues of the day such as the right of women to vote or the evils of alcohol.

I’ve identified more than 100 sets of lyrics sung to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” some of which predate Key’s now famous lyric and others which follow and parody Key’s words. The most powerful of these lyrics and the most emblematic of the tune’s potential for social commentary is the 1844 anti-slavery lyric “Oh Say, Do You Hear?” by E. A. Atlee. It was first published in the abolitionist newspaper Signal of Liberty (July 22, 1844) and later that same year in William Lloyd Garrison’s more famous national anti-slavery paper The Liberator (Sept. 13, 1844).

Atlee’s words echo Key’s own, creating a recriminating tension between often graphic descriptions of the slavery’s inhuman bondage on one hand and the ideals of freedom celebrated in “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the other. Atlee’s lyric thus questions how a nation that permits slavery can in any sense be a “land of the free” at all, indicting the country as hypocritical and demanding the end of slavery. Atlee’s lyric is among the most powerful ever to be written to this melody and could be taught alongside Key’s own to highlight the responsibility that all Americans have to make certain that the ideals of freedom upon which the nation was founded are not taken for granted, but rather apply to all.

The complete lyrics of Atlee’s “New National Anthem” are:

  1. Oh, say do you hear, at the dawn’s early light,
    The shrieks of those bondmen, whose blood is now streaming
    From the merciless lash, while our banner in sight
    With its stars, mocking freedom, is fitfully gleaming?
    Do you see the backs bare? Do you mark every score
    Of the whip of the driver trace channels of gore?
    And say, doth our star-spangled banner yet wave
    O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?
  2. On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
    Where Afric’s race in false safety reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
    As it heedlessly sweeps, half conceals, half discloses?
    ’Tis a slave ship that’s seen, by the morning’s first beam,
    And its tarnished reflection pollutes now the stream:
    ’Tis our star-spangled banner! Oh! When shall it wave
    O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!
  3. And where is the band, who so valiantly bore
    The havoc of war, and the battle’s confusion,
    For Liberty’s sweets? We shall know them no more:
    Their fame is eclispsed by foul Slavery’s pollution.
    No refuge is found on our unhallowed ground,
    For the wretched in Slavery’s manacles bound;
    While our star-spangled banner in vain boasts to wave
    O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!
  4. Shall we ne’er hail the day when as freemen shall stand
    The millions who groan under matchless oppression?
    Shall Liberty’s shouts, in our heaven-rescued land,
    Ne’er be shared by the slave in our blood-guilty nation?
    Oh, let us be just, ere in God we dare trust;
    Else the day will o’er take us when perish we must;
    And our star-spangled banner at half mast shall wave
    O’er the death-bed of Freedom—the home of the slave.

P.S. “Oh Say, Can You Hear?” and 36 other tracks that tell the story of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from its origins as a London club song up through Igor Stravinsky’s arrangement can be heard on the Poets and Patriots recording project and the sheet music for these and other Banner songs is in our Star Spangled Songbook.

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Spangled Mythconception #8: Igor Stravinsky’s Mug Shot & “Illegal” Anthem

MythConceptionsLogoMYTH #8: A mug shot offers proof of composer Igor Stravinsky’s arrest by the Boston Police for desecrating a national symbol after conducting a performance of his own arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with the Boston Symphony.

CORRECTION: The supposed mug shot is actually part of Stravinsky’s 1940 visa application for residence in the United States. Stravinsky did indeed create an arrangement of the U.S. national anthem and conducted it—not only in Boston, but in concerts throughout the U.S.—but his initial version (one of four he would eventually make of Key’s song) is dated July 4, 1941 (more than a year after the date on the “mug shot”). The well-known image is thus not associated with an arrest at all, but it is true that Stravinsky’s anthem was controversial. This controversy had little to do with the music, however, and everything to do with suspicion of things Russian during and after World War II.

StravinskyVisaApplication-cropThe visual is more than compelling… a haggard looking image of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky with a sign hanging crookedly around his neck emblazoned with numbers and the words “Boston Police.” It gives the immediate impression of a mug shot taken to document the arrest of a crime suspect. Even before the Internet, the image circulated in a blurry photocopy among music historians, but once rare it’s now readily available online.

However, the mythical image also contains the evidence of its own factual undoing.

The last row of numbers indicates the date April 15, 1940, which is more than a year prior to Stravinsky’s first arrangement of the U.S. national anthem. He completed that draft on July 1, 1941, but in a nod to American patriotism and his soon to be adopted country, Stravinsky dated the draft July 4 in celebration of Independence Day. Moreover, the performances the composer conducted with the Boston Symphony that supposedly sparked his arrest did not occur until January 13 & 14 of 1944. Finally, a real mug shot would have both frontal and profile views. Instead, this image is for the composer’s visa application. He would establish residency in 1940 and U. S. citizenship in 1945.

Yet there are certain truths in the story of Stravinsky’s “illegal” anthem. Stravinsky did in fact arrange the U.S. national anthem and, within the charged political atmosphere of World War II, his harmonization was controversial. Further the composer was threatened with a $100 fine for violating a state of Massachusetts ordinance for arranging the anthem in a non-traditional manner and the parts to his arrangement were seized from BSO stands to prevent them being used for a radio broadcast that Stravinsky would conduct. Stravinsky was neither arrested nor fined; instead he conducted a more traditional arrangement for the broadcast.

Although considered a subversive “revision” by some, contemporary interpretations of his anthem arrangement had little to do with Stravinsky’s music. Actually listening to his version (click graphic above) reveals that Stravinsky left the traditional melody and rhythm of the song unchanged. Likewise the words are Francis Scott Key’s own, all that has changed is the accompaniment. While a seventh chord adds some drama and spice to the final phrase (listen especially to the word “land”), Stravinsky’s arrangement is gorgeous, not modernist or offensive. Rather it evokes the harmonies of early American psalmody and was one of my personal favorites in the Poets & Patriots recording project.  Stravinsky himself said that he “tried to express the religious feelings of the people of America,” which is a striking departure of aesthetics from a composer who publicly doubted music’s ability to be expressive at all. For me, one of the more powerful aspects of the setting is the unison in which all voices unite for the final word of each verse—”free.” It’s hymn-like beauty is striking in our recording.

What the controversy and confusion over Stravinsky’s anthem arrangement reveals is the power of social and political context to interpretation. Stravinsky’s Russian heritage made him an object of suspicion during World War II and the subsequent Red Scare. While foreign-born classical musicians had used “The Star-Spangled Banner” to perform their patriotic support of America’s war efforts in both World War One and Two, Stravinsky’s arrangement could not overcome such suspicions. Instead, the arrangement seemed to call the composer’s loyalty into question.

Those wishing to know more about Stravinsky’s four arrangements of Key’s anthem should read H. Colin Slim’s magisterial article on the topic—”Stravinsky’s Four Star-Spangled Banners and His 1941 Christmas Card” published in The Musical Quarterly 89:2/3 (Summer-Fall, 2006), 321–447 (click here for JSTOR preview). The Stravinsky quote above is taken from page 364.

If you’re interested in performing Stravinsky’s piano-vocal version yourself, it’s available in our Star Spangled Songbook in paperback or hardcover editions. The associated recordings are available in a collectible CD set or online via Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Spotify, etc.

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Posted in Arrangements, Igor Stravinsky, Law, Music Orchestral, Mythconceptions, World War II | 1 Comment

You May Have Been Illegally Singing the National Anthem Your Whole Life

…if you live in Michigan.

Though it’s an obscure law, in 1931, Michigan passed three criminal codes governing performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Proper performance is defined as follows:

How played—The national hymn or anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”, shall not be played, sung or otherwise rendered in this state in any public place nor at any public entertainment, nor in any theatre, motion picture hall, restaurant or cafe, except as an entire and separate composition or number and without embellishments of national or other melodies; nor shall “The Star Spangled Banner” or any part thereof or selection from the same, be played as a part or selection of a medley of any kind; nor shall “The Star Spangled Banner” be played at or in any of the places mentioned herein for dancing or as an exit march.(1)

So beware — no dancing to “The Star-Spangled Banner”!!

This year, Michigan Representative Chris Afendoulis (R, 73rd District) has proposed removing the state’s three criminal codes relating to “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a bill with several other incredulous laws. As part of Professor Mark Clague’s course “Understanding ‘The Star-Spangled Banner'” at the University of Michigan, I had the honor to interview Rep. Afendoulis on his bill. [The interview follows]

Myself: When did you first come across the three codes regarding “The Star-Spangled Banner” and what was your first reaction to them? Had you heard of them before?

Representative Chris Afendoulis: Like most people, I had not heard of these restrictions. I was made aware at the start of my term that there were many laws on the books that were irrelevant and unenforceable. I was extremely surprised to know that some of these laws existed and a little disheartened that someone thought they were a good idea in the first place.

Have you found any evidence if any person has ever been penalized for this statute?

            No, we weren’t able to find anyone – which is probably a good thing. I would hope no one got in any trouble for something like this.

Is there any specific reason you chose to group these laws together for the first proposed batch of criminal codes to be repealed in Michigan?

            These were identified by various groups as laws that could be considered for repeal.

What is your next step in getting these laws repealed?

            Pending Senate approval of the legislation, it will be signed by the Governor.

Do you personally believe there should be any type of code – criminal or not – regarding the anthem and how it is sung or performed?

            I believe we should not stifle the individual creativity of performers. Criticisms of artistic interpretation should take place in our cultural sphere, not our court system. As far as a code, I’m not sure it’s necessary and certainly not for legislators to decide. I think people enjoy different interpretations — some like long drawn out notes, others like it short and sweet. If it’s really that bad of an interpretation, I’m sure social media will let them know.

What does “The Star-Spangled Banner” mean to you?

            The story behind the historical battle and the symbolism it portrays makes me proud to be an American.

What is your favorite patriotic tune?

            The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa

(1) State of Michigan Legislature. House. The Michigan Penal Code (Excerpt) Act 238 of 1931. 750.541–3; Duty to control manner of playing. How Played. Punishment. 18 Sep 1931. Michigan Legislature. Web. 11 Nov 2015.

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Star Spangled Songbook Hardback Edition Published

SongbookHardCover-cropWe’ve created a new hardback edition of our Star Spangled Songbook specifically for libraries and collectors. Click here to order ($35). The book contains 73-sheet music editions of historic arrangements of “The Star-Spangled Banner” plus its musical antecedents and parodies. Chief among these is the original source of the melody Key would use—London’s amateur musicians club theme “The Anacreontic Song.” Included are other songs by the music’s creator John Stafford Smith as well as little known songs by Francis Scott Key, including “When the Warrior Returns” (which anticipates the future anthem by 9 years) and three of his hymns. Click here for a contents list.

The original spiral edition is ideal for teachers or musicians who prefer the music notation to lie open and flat, say on a piano music stand. The hardback edition is better for storage on library shelves and can better withstand heavy use by students. Order your copy today and maybe one for your local school library!

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Star Spangled Music Day—Wed. Sept. 14, 2016


kids-webThe Star Spangled Music Foundation (SSMF) is pleased to announce a national Star-Spangled Music Day #3 for Wednesday, September 14, 2016 in celebration of the 202nd anniversary of the United States National Anthem — “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

For this day we ask that Americans far-and-wide and especially K-12 students throughout the United States sing patriotic songs—including “The Star-Spangled Banner”—and discuss the history and significance of the anthem. Performances may be videotaped and posted to YouTube, Twitter, and other social media outlets using the hashtag #AnthemBDay.

Charlotte Prep STudent Flag-editREALLYNarrowWEBThe SSMF provides free K–16 instructional materials as linked to our For Educators page. We also encourage teachers, schools, and educational organizations to join our Star Spangled Teachers and Star Spangled Schools Networks to keep current with upcoming announcements and the release of additional materials.

Ideas to celebrate the National Day of Patriotic Song include:

Right-click to download this web-ready logo or click here for a printable version.

Right-click to download this web-ready logo or click here for a printable version.

  • Have a campus-wide singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and post it to YouTube using the hashtag #AnthemBDay and post it to our Facebook page. If you send us the video, we can post it for you. Email for help.
  • Perform the SSMF’s Star Spangled Halftime Spectacular marching band charts during your high school football game that evening. Email for link.
  • Add a historical arrangement of the U.S. National Anthem to a concert or recital for a school-wide assembly using our free musical scores.
  • Work with local government or other organizations to celebrate the bicentennial of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in whatever way is best for your local community.
  • Play the SSMF’s recording of the original version of the U.S. national anthem over your school’s PA to start the day and tell your fellow staff and students about the anthem’s anniversary. Click here for a script that you could adapt for the announcement. You can get our recording on Youtube or in our Poets & Patriots CD release.
  • Add your own idea and initiative here! Share them with us via Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for joining the SSMF and our other partners in celebrating the 202nd birthday of “The Star-Spangled Banner”!

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Star Spangled Songbook Published!


The Star Spangled Songbook is a sheet music companion of our Poets & Patriots recording project, but contains even more music, over 70 titles overall.

Our book of sheet music and anthem history—the Star Spangled Songbook—has been published to mark the song’s 201st anniversary!

The Star Spangled Songbook tells a largely forgotten story of the United States of America—of the symbiosis of both anthem and nation—in more than seventy songs with full text and performable sheet music. These all-new scholarly editions reveal the remarkable story of “The Star-Spangled Banner” beginning with the melody’s roots as an 18th-c. English musicians club anthem and vehicle for early American political parodies that predate Francis Scott Key’s lyric. The anthem itself is shown in twenty distinct arrangements revealing its symbolic and musical transformation from song of celebration to national hymn—from its original 1814 arrangement as a solo song with choral refrain to the World War I “Service Version” and then to Igor Stravinsky’s beautiful (yet infamous) setting and a brand new through-composed version of all-four verses by American composer Michael Gandolfi.

“A must for all those passionate for American History, especially our history told through the eyes of Poets and the ears of Composers. Compelling as it is enlightening,… sing your way through the history of ideas and ideals that gave us our National Anthem.”

—American baritone Thomas Hampson

Alternate lyrics reveal the wide-ranging and popular American cultural practice of broadside balladry and explore the political use of Key’s patriotic inspiration to elect presidents, agitate for labor rights, and argue for the abolition of slavery. Other songs by Francis Scott Key and the melody’s composer John Stafford Smith are featured. Created for vocalists, teachers, and anyone fascinated by American history, the Star Spangled Songbook reveals a surprising and rich history through the nation’s song of citizenship.

The book has been edited by SSMF board members Mark Clague and Andrew Kuster. It includes sheet music used to record our Poets & Patriots project with such songs as “The Anacreontic Song” (source tune for Key’s anthem), the first-ever 1814 sheet music edition of the anthem, alternate texts sung to the anthem melody such as the arresting abolitionist song “Oh Say, Do You Hear?,” as well as 20+ arrangements of Key’s text that show how the music has changed over the past two centuries.

The Star Spangled Songbook is spiral bound for convenience as a performance text (it can sit easily on a piano) and contains 282 pages of music, commentary, and historical writings.

Click here to order your copy today!

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