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there any specific reason you chose to group these laws together for the first proposed batch of criminal codes to be repealed in Michigan?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What is your next step in getting these laws repealed?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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Concert Variations on the Star Spangled Banner for Organ

In 1861 American composer and organist, John Knowles Paine (1839–1906) composed the Concert Variations on “The Star Spangled Banner,” Op. 3, No. 2. It is paired as Opus 3 with a set of “Concert Variations on the Austrian Hymn” (Op. 3, No. 1) and thus links the musical traditions of the New World with the Old.

Like most American classical musicians of the era, Paine had finished his artistic training in Europe (in his case in Berlin). Upon his return to the United States, he settled in Boston and worked as an organist at West Church. He offered free music appreciation classes and was soon appointed to the faculty at Harvard University, making him the first-ever music professor in U.S. history. He would become a founding member of the American Guild of Organists.

Organist Dr. Andrew Meagher, a University of Michigan  graduate and student of the legendary Marilyn Mason, here performs Paine’s patriotic celebration on the Frieze Memorial Organ (1893–) in Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan.

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Guest Post—Marc Leepson on Francis Scott Key (Facts #6–10)

Ten Little-Known Facts about Francis Scott Key (#6–10)
By Marc Leepson

Portriat by Joseph Wood ca.1825

Portriat by Joseph Wood ca.1825

  1. Key was a close confidant of President Andrew Jackson and a member of his Kitchen Cabinet. Informal meetings often took place in Key’s expansive house on M Street (then known as Bridge Street) in Georgetown.
  1. Key served for eight years as U.S. Attorney, appointed by Jackson, in Washington, D.C. During that time he tried several important cases. That included prosecuting the first person who attempted to assassinate a U.S. President, Richard Lawrence, who tried to shoot Andrew Jackson on the Capitol steps on January 30, 1835. When Key realized Lawrence was mentally ill, he agreed with the defense—against Jackson’s wishes—that the man was insane and not responsible for his actions. The jury found Lawrence not guilty by reason of insanity and he spent the rest of his life in mental institutions.
  1. U.S. Attorney Key zealously prosecuted Reuben Crandall, a young doctor, for possessing abolitionist tracts, and a young enslaved man, Arthur Bowen, for attempted murder, two actions action that led to the first race riot in Washington, D.C., in August of 1835.
  1. Key had a long, close friendship with John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833), the mercurial, brilliant, and controversial Virginia congressman. The flamboyant Randolph, who never married, was an unlikely friend of the staid father of eleven. The two men met often when Randolph was in Washington and carried on an extensive correspondence when he wasn’t. Randolph named Key an executor of his estate.
  1. In 1823, Frank Key, who had been a trustee of the Maryland General Theological Seminary since 1820, joined with several other pious Episcopalians—including Rev. William Meade—to start a seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, to prepare men for the priesthood. The Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary—today known as the Virginia Theological Seminary—opened its doors that year with two instructors and fourteen students. Key was a strong supporter of the Seminary until his death in 1843.

Author Marc Leepson

Journalist and historian Marc Leepson is the author of eight books. His most recent is What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key a Life, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014. It was the first biography of Key from a major publisher since 1937. His website is

Click here to support Star Spangled Music Foundation by purchasing Marc’s book!

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Guest Post—Marc Leepson on Francis Scott Key (Facts #1–5)

Ten Little-Known Facts about Francis Scott Key
By Marc Leepson

Francis Scott KeyVirtually everyone knows the name Francis Scott Key. And virtually everyone knows it for one reason: for the fact that he was the author of the words that became our National Anthem. But there was much more to Frank Key—as he was known to family and friends—than the words he wrote in Baltimore Harbor on the night of September 13-14, 1814, when he was 35 years old.

Key was born into a prominent Maryland family in 1779, graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis in 1796, and went on to have a big legal career in Washington, D.C. He ran a thriving private law practice, argued more than a hundred cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and served as U.S. Attorney in Washington for eight years. A closer adviser to President Andrew Jackson, Key was an influential voice in shaping the major issues facing the Early Republic—including the No. 1 issue, the question of slavery.

A devoutly religious man, Key was adamantly against international slave trafficking. And he was well known for defending free blacks and slaves without charge in the Washington, D.C., courts. He also was a life-long slave owner from a large slave-owning family, and was a founding member in 1816, and strong proponent for the rest of his life, of the American Colonization Society.

That controversial group’s goal was to set up a colony in West Africa for free American blacks (not slaves). Key and the other ACS supporters—a group that included James Monroe, James Madison, John Marshall, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and many others–was reviled by abolitionists and by many free blacks as little more than a vehicle to rid the nation of African Americans.

What follows are ten little-known facts about Francis Scott Key, his family, and the Early American Republic:

  1. Key’s uncle, Philip Barton Key (his father’s only sibling) and his great uncle, Upton Scott, were Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. Philip Barton Key went so far as to join the British Army to fight the American rebellion. Key’s father, John Ross Key, on the other hand, served in the Continental Army and was present at the surrender at Yorktown. For his part, Frank Key was adamantly against the U.S. going to war with England in 1812. He called the war “a lump of wickedness.”
  1. Frank married Mary Tayloe Lloyd in 1802. Know as Polly, she came from an extremely prosperous Maryland family. Her father, Col. John Lloyd, owned the extensive Wye Plantation, along with hundreds of slaves, including the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglas, who was born there in 1818.
  1. Frank and Polly had eleven children. Tragically, three of their sons died while their parents were alive. Eight-year-old Edward Key drowned in the Potomac River near the Keys’ backyard in 1822; twenty-two-year old Daniel Murray Key was killed in a duel in 1836; and thirty-year-old John Ross Key died after a short illness in 1837.
  1. Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Chief Justice best known for issuing the infamous majority opinion in the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott case, was Francis Scott Key’s brother-in-law, having married his only sister Anne. The two lawyers were very close personal and professional friends and colleagues from, the time they met as young law students in Annapolis in the late 1790s to Key’s death of 1843.
  1. Francis Scott Key only spoke about writing “The Star-Spangled Banner” once in public, in an 1834 political speech. “I saw the flag of my country waving over a city—the strength and pride of my native state,” Key said. “Then, in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke; and ‘Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?’ was its question. With it came an inspiration not to be resisted.”

Author Marc Leepson

Journalist and historian Marc Leepson is the author of eight books. His most recent is What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key a Life, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014. It was the first biography of Key from a major publisher since 1937. His website is

Click here to support Star Spangled Music Foundation by purchasing Marc’s book!

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