Women’s Suffrage Anthem: “The Equal-Rights Banner” (1884)

On August 18, 1920, the state of Tennesee’s ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution enshrined the right of women to vote in the U.S. Constitution.

Song energizes the quest for equality. Music gives voice to the passion of the individual for change and propels the feet of the collective to flood the public square in parades of protest. In the United States today, this quest continues, but it builds upon the hope of progress past.

One hundred years ago, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920 was such a signal achievement. It enshrined the right of women to vote in the nation’s founding document and propelled a revolution that continues to reverberate today in the dramatic increase of women serving as elected leaders in local, state, and national offices.

“The Equal-Rights Banner” (1884) helped to propel the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Composed to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and thus arguing musically that giving women the vote was itself patriotic, this suffrage lyric was written by the Reverend C.C. Harrah. It connects women’s suffrage to the nation’s very survival.

1. Oh say, have you heard of the new, dawning light,
Bringing hope to our land, and its foes all surprising?
Our banner still floats, as the emblem of right,
And the day breaks upon us, for women are rising.
And with ballots in hand, at the right’s dear command,
They’ll be true to the flag and will rescue our land;
And ever the EQUAL-RIGHTS BANNER shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

2. How justice and right have been crushed to the dust,
While the foe of the home in protection reposes;
Behind screens, behind bars, and in places of trust,
Not true Freedom, but License its vile form discloses.
The injustice we see, and the women when free
Will destroy by the votes, and then saved shall we be;
And the EQUAL-RIGHTS BANNER forever shall wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

3. The women for truth and for virtue will stand,
And the country be freed from unjust legislation,
And heav’n then will smile on the purified land,
And the Power shall be praised that hath kept us a nation.
Woman’s ballot is just, so then conquer we must,
And this be our watchword—“In God is Our Trust!”
And our EQUAL-RIGHTS BANNER in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. (1)

Published in 1884, six years after a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was first introduced in the U.S. Congress, “The Equal-Rights Banner” offers insight into the roots of women’s political power in the United States as this political movement was nurtured in the temperance movement. In the 19th-century, alcoholism was seen as both a public health issue and a women’s rights issue. Often located in religious organizations, temperance both provided social sanction for women’s concerted action and galvanized women to demand political power. This connection is most audible in verse 2 of Harrah’s lyrics in its call for the elimination of “License” or the right to sell alcohol.

To celebrate the 19th Amendment, sing “The Equal-Rights Banner” in thanks of the many women of all races, ethnicities and creeds, especially today, who help make democracy possible.

-Mark Clague, musicologist

1. C. C. Harrah, “The Equal-Rights Banner,” in Report of the International Council of Women (Washington, D.C.: Rufus H. Darby for the National Woman Suffrage Association, 1888), 23.

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New Anthem Arrangement Confronts America’s 2020 Challenges

American pianist Tony Lee has created a heartfelt and personal arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the 2020 July Fourth holiday. Featuring enriched harmonies and melodic quotations of the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” as well as the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” his performance speaks to today’s national crises as well as the country’s potential to address these challenges through collective action and care. Lee offers a powerful, emotional reading that depicts the dissonance, contradictions, and debate that characterize the American democratic experiment while ending on a unison as a musical symbol of a unity and hope.

American pianist Tony Lee performs his Fourth of July 2020 arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Lee describes the inspiration and artistic vision for his arrangement, including both the model of Rachmaninoff and his decision to wear a Covid-19 health mask while performing, in an accompanying video.

Pianist Tony Lee discusses his 2020 Anthem arrangement.

Speaking historically, Lee’s anthem is part of a tradition of performances that fuse patriotism with critique to express both a personal devotion to the nation and a belief that the country can transform itself for the better. Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 Woodstock Banner is the most famous and widely known of this genre, but many performances can be considered both an expression of patriotism and a hopeful call for change.

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An Erroneous Francis Scott Key Quote

Francis Scott Key is a complicated historical figure. As a slaveholder and a Southern attorney who often volunteered his services in representing enslaved people and free Blacks but who also fought passionately against abolitionists, Key has a troubling relationship with slavery. That his attitudes perpetuated white supremacy and have been proven wrong by history is beyond question. Nevertheless, it is vital to articulate his position precisely in our effort to understand both America’s own troubling legacy of racism and music’s role in resisting and perpetuating this injustice.

A racist quote attributed to Francis Scott Key, the author of the lyrics to “The Star- Spangled Banner,” has been circulating in news articles and blog posts. Incorrectly credited to Key as a first-person expression of his attitudes about race in the United States, the quote asserts that free Blacks are “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”

The quote is taken from page 40 of Jefferson Morley’s generally insightful 2012 book Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (1). Morley, in turn, cites as his sole source a quote in the 1937 biography Francis Scott Key: Life and Times by Edward S. Delaplaine (2). This biography is the source of confusion as to the quote’s speaker.

Discussing a July 1838 letter from Key to the Reverend Benjamin Tappan of Maine, Delaplaine reprints the quote as given and credits it to Key without sufficiently detailed explanation. A closer reading of the original letter, however, shows that Key did not represent his own words with the quoted phrase.

Question #4 in Tappan’s letter asks Key about the beliefs of Southern “Christian Colonizationists” concerning emancipation. In particular Tappan wants to know why they believe that the people thus freed must be sent to Africa, rather than being allowed to remain in the South as a free people paid for their labors. Key’s reply to this question includes the quote above but ascribes it not to his own feelings or ideas but to those who hold the opinion that freed slaves must be sent away. As reprinted by Augustus Palmer in a 1839 pamphlet, this full section appears as follows. (Note that Tappan’s question appears first, followed by Key’s response, beginning in line 8.)

Key to Tappan Question #4

It is important to ask if Key, who was himself a leader and fundraiser for the Colonization Society, shared this opinion. The best evidence to the contrary is that Key, who freed seven of his own ‘s slaves over the course of his life, did not send any of these men, women, and children to Africa upon their emancipation.

Where Key’s own thinking is in this statement is not precisely clear. The letter itself was a propaganda piece for the American Colonization Society and Key, himself, seems to have sincerely believed that colonization offered a pathway to a peaceful means to slavery’s end. As the U.S. Civil War proved, Key was wrong.

StarSpangledMusic.Org does not intend this post as an apology for Francis Scott Key. Confronting the racist past of the nation’s patriotic song and music generally is part of our promise as an organization “to critically examine the complex history of American patriotic art, especially as it reflects and perpetuates the pestilence of racism.”

Mark Clague, musicologist


  1. Jefferson Morley, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (New York: Doubleday, 2012). See page 40.
  2. Edward S. Delaplaine, Francis Scott Key: Life and Times (The Biography Press, 1937; reprinted by Heritage Books, 2011). See page 449.
  3. Augustus Palmer, A Collection of Facts in Regard to Liberia, By Judge Paine, of Vermont: To which is added the correspondence of the Rev. Benjamin Tappan, of Maine, and Francis S. Key, Esquire, of the District of Columbia (Woodstock, VT: Augustus Palmer, 1839). See page 27.
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“Lift Every Voice and Sing”—Free Sheet Music Download

The Johnson Brothers

Originally published in our 2014 Star Spangled Songbook, we are thrilled to make the sheet music for the African American Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with by the brothers James Weldon Johnson (lyrics) and J. Rosamond Johnson (music) available. Despite the broad popularity of this song, which was featured recently by Beyoncé in her Homecoming set at Coachella in 2018, the notation for the song is relatively hard to locate online.

The sheet music is available in two versions for immediate free download — the Bb Major edition reflects the original key of the song, while the G-Major version is more accessible for group singing.

Click to View and Download

This edition carries our typical creative commons license and is free to use by educational and community purposes.

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Band Music of Alton Augustus Adams Now Available

Alton 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.

Portrait of Alton Augustus Adams
Portrait of Alton Augustus Adams, Sr. (1922)
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 claguem@umich.edu.

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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