I came across two more books relating to Key. They both shed light on a part of the story we have not covered – the song.
The first book is, “The Flag, The Poet & The Song” by Irvin Molotsky, published in 2001. The challenge for any author covering the subject is trying to find a path not already beaten. Molotsky succeeds. In the first chapter he warms up by chiding some of the improvisations of the Star-Spangled Banner.
“…the O is shouted by everyone in the park. Get it? Very funny in Baltimore. Scared the hell out of me the first time I heard it.”
The author then introduces Paul Zimmerman, a Sports Illustrated writer who gained some measure of fame by clocking the anthem with his stopwatch. When Molotsky interviewed him, Zimmerman said he had timed the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner 1,283 times at sporting events.
It’s not hard to find people who agree our National Anthem is not easy to sing, but few are willing to criticize it further. Motolsky found his man. Zimmerman said, “It’s a crummy song and I want to get it over with as soon as possible.”
The author also casts a critical eye on the National Baseball Hall of Fame, who references, “The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball” as saying the first time the anthem was played at a baseball game was May 15, 1862.
“Dubious,” Motolsky says. “The first well-documented performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at a baseball game came to Comisky Park during the 1918 World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox.”
The other book is, “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon” by Lonn Taylor. Standing out as a large, thick book, I spotted it at the NMAH last week. A few days later I checked it out of the library, but it’s only a third of the size. An excellent source, however, with a chapter on the song having the insight I needed.
The song has been maligned as a British drinking song, but the book says that’s a misnomer.
By the way, Anthem, a new film is coming out this summer. This website has more info.
The Star Spangled Banner slowly grew in popularity, with much of it coming after Key passed away in 1843. As one might expect, Union soldiers juxtaposed patriotism with the playing of the song by bands.
In 1903, the Navy required all of its sailors to stand at attention during the playing. Full iconic status, however, was still years away. Finally, after several false starts, Congress designated the Star Spangled Banner as the national anthem in 1936.
If I could add one personal memory. When I was in the sixth grade at Sedgefield Elementary in Greensboro, our teacher, Mrs. Boggs, let us watch the World Series, or some of it. If I recall correctly, this was 1967.
Anyway, normal protocol is that if are inside, you don't have to stand up when the National Anthem comes on. Well, Mrs. Boggs, patriotic soul and stickler for discipline, told us to stand up and sing it.
Stand and sing we did!