CORRECTION: This is absolutely correct in terms of the anthem’s legal status, but the bill approved by the House and Senate and signed by President Herbert Hoover simply recognized what had been true in American cultural practice for decades
Citizens treated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as America’s anthem long before it was officially so. Early in the nineteenth century the song “Hail Columbia (1798, Poets & Patriots track 9) served as the defacto anthem of the United States, yet as Key’s song grew in popularity it stole the honor. With its lyrical repetition of the phrase “Star-Spangled Banner,” Key’s song became synonymous with the flag through the 1820s and 1830s and then a series of wars—the Mexican-American War (1846–48), U.S. Civil War (1860–65), and Spanish-American War (1898)—sanctified flag and song through the blood sacrifice for the defense of national sovereignty. By the eve of the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, “The Star-Spangled Banner” had even become the official “national anthem” for the U.S. Army and Navy.
The publication of piano variation sets in the mid-19th c. reveal the growing popularity of Key’s song. Seattle International Piano Competition Gold Medalist and U-M graduate Jeannette Fang performs Cull’s “Brilliant Variations” (1861) from our Poets & Patriots recording project.
So—citizens in performance made Key’s song into America’s own long before a federal law made it official.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from performing “The Star-Spangle Banner”?