Sing along with our Star-Spangled Banner bicentennial celebration

SEPTEMBER 10-16, 2014—That’s the Baltimore-area Star-Spangled Spectacular event, which some Baltimore officials are predicting will be the largest single tourism event in the city’s history. A Washington Times news story reports: “Tall ships, Navy gray hulls and the high-flying Blue Angels will come to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to commemorate the birthplace and bicentennial of The Star-Spangled Banner. Many of the museums, historic sites and restaurants are also showcasing exhibits and deals during the Spectacular.”

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014—That’s Star-Spangled Music Day, promoted by a wide array of allies including The Star-Spangled Music Foundation, The American Choral Directors Association, America Sings, Resounding Joy and many others. Schools across the nation are asked to hold their own birthday events to honor “The Star-Spangled Banner” and to share these efforts using the hashtag #Anthem200. Here are all the details you’ll need to participate.

READ MORE: At ReadTheSpirit, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker has written extensively about the 200-year history of our national anthem in his OurValues series.


Most Americans are a bit fuzzy about what happened in September 1814, toward the end of America’s War of 1812 with Great Britain. Wikipedia has an exhaustive chronology as well as historical images.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

On September 3, 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. Because they had heard those plans, the British made them captives.

During the September 12-15 British attack on Baltimore, Key had a ring-side seat to watch the bombardment. The British HMS Erebus provided the “rockets’ red glare” and HMS Meteor provided at least some of the “bombs bursting in air.” Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort.

Aboard ship, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on September 16, he was released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and titled it “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”

Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law Judge Joseph H. Nicholson who matched the poem to the melody of a tune popular in gentlemen’s clubs. So, yes, the original melody was a “drinking song.” One version of the new song was printed September 17. Newspapers began printing it by September 20. More newspapers and magazines followed throughout the autumn of 1814.


University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker has written extensively about The Star-Spangled Banner, it’s evolution over the past 200 years—and the American values embodied in the singing of that song …

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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