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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The National Anthem

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 29, 2016

Being Memorial Day weekend, our thoughts turn to patriotic music and the honoring of all the service men and women who have given their lives for our freedom.


I also remember a time as a child, and a comment that my grandmother made one such holiday.


She recounted that when she was a school girl in the 1890s, they sang the song, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” each day in their one-room schoolhouse, as “The Star Spangled Banner” was not yet our national anthem.


She was correct, as our current and only national anthem was approved by Congressional Resolution on March 3, 1931, long after grandmother’s school days.


Prior to that time, there was no official national anthem, only patriotic songs that changed with time.


The first song used as a national anthem was “The President’s March,” written in 1789 by Philip Phile for the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States.


In 1798, the patriotic song was renamed “Hail, Columbia” and used most of the 19th Century as the de facto national anthem.


Today it is the official Vice-Presidential anthem.


My grandmother’s remembrance, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” was written in 1843 by David T. Shaw and Thomas A. Beckett, they wanted a new song for a benefit show.


It was commonly used the remainder of the 19th Century into the 20th Century until replaced by the current national anthem.


“The Star Spangled Banner” came from a poem written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key called, “Defence (sic) of Fort McHenry” as the author watched the bombardment of the Fort in Baltimore harbor during the War of 1812.


His poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for use in a men’s club in London.


“The Star Spangled Banner” was first recognized in 1889 for official use by the United States Navy and by President Wilson in 1916 as a patriotic song.  A rewritten official version was played at Carnegie Hall in 1917.


Two other songs were used as patriotic songs.  “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” written in 1831 by Samuel Francis Smith while a student at Andover Theological Seminary.


It was set to the music of “God Save the Queen,” the national anthem for the United Kingdom.


The second patriotic song was written as a poem in 1895 titled “Pikes Peak,” written by Katherine Lee Bates with music composed by Samuel A. Ward based on a church hymn.


The song, renamed “America the Beautiful” was revised in 1904 and 1911 to better fit the music, and has been considered to become our national song many times, although that has never been approved by Congress.


“The Star Spangled Banner” was first used at a professional baseball game in 1918, as the seventh-inning stretch music.  It became a common practice to start the game with the national anthem following World War II.


In 1929, the newspaper columnist and cartoonist Robert Ripley, in his “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” reported that the United States was one of the few nations of the world without an official national anthem.


Military band leader John Philip Sousa took-up-the-cause and wrote letters to the congressional leadership, which resulted in the designation in 1931.


All of these patriotic songs have multiple verses, with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” actually containing some 13 verses; even though the common singing will be only the first verse.


I suggest you take some time to read the other verses of these great songs to better understand the sacrifices made for freedom.


I think my grandmother’s vote for a national anthem would have been “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” since her memories were of her time in school.


Allow me to borrow a line from that patriotic song, and say, “Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!”