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We’re all familiar with Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner,” especially as a ritual opening at our county’s favorite sporting events.
Whether distorted in protest by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock…
…or belted by Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV…
…the song evokes potent emotion and memory. To celebrate the anthem’s 200-year anniversary, we explore its historical significance. From the war of 1812, to World War I, and up to today’s traditions, it’s had a hand in molding the modern image of America. Thousands of renditions are played each year, but how much do you really know about the anthem?
Mark Clague is a professor of musicology, the director of research at the University of Michigan and the founder of the Star-Spangled Music Foundation. He’s a big believer in the song’s impact on American culture.
“One of the powerful things about music, and a powerful thing about an anthem — it builds community when we sing it together. We have a such a big country, with millions of millions of people, and we know the collective rituals, singing the songs together.”
But, according to Clague, there is no traditional way to sing the anthem. And while the song is a marker of community, it is also a marker of individuality.
“It’s kind of a statement of citizenship the way you choose to sing it. When people sing it they’re actually telling you a lot about themselves, they’re basically saying ‘I’m an American.’ When Beyoncé sings it, she’s sings it her way, and in part making a statement what it means to be an American today, in a multi-cultural society….If everyone sang it the exactly the same way it would be a pretty boring country.”
Art Beat spoke with Clague about “The Star-Spangled Banner” and he told us seven little-known facts about our national song:
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