Musicologist Mark Clague presented a lecture on “Banner Ballards: The Many Lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner” at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on March 7, 2017.
Mark Clague is part of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance. He is an Associate Professor of Music, American Culture, and African American Studies as well as the Director of Entrepreneurship and Career Services. He is also the co-Director of the American Music Institute.
Clague has explored more than 100 different sets of words sung to the tune we recognize today as only Star-Spangled Banner. His presentation “Banner Ballards” incorporates music examples, following the anthem’s 200-year journey from broadside, to victory ballad, to protest song, to anthem, and back again.
As he began, Clague noted his fondness for the Star-Spangled Banner began in his youth as he grew up during the mid 1970’s. His younger days were filled with parades and activities centered on America’s Bi-Centennial, which sparked his interest in the song.
The presentation included audience participation in singing some of the various songs. Clague goes into depth to illustrate the original source of the song and its meaning.
Clague discussed the song When the Warrior Returns by Francis Scott Key from 1805 which was written for America’s first Naval Heroes: Stephen Decatur, Jr. and Charles Stewart of the 1801 – 1805 Tripolitan War. Scott Key used another then-popular song, To Anacreon in Heaven composed by John Stafford Smith in 1778 London, as the musical lyric for his verses.
Nine years later after composing When the Warrior Returns, Scott Key is in Baltimore, MD and had concluded negotiations with the British on prisoner transfers during the War of 1812. As the British have detained him until their next military operation concludes, he witnesses the Bombardment of Fort McHenry on September 13-14, 1814. The Americans stayed to defend Fort McHenry and after 25 hours the Star-Spangled Banner (the US Flag) was still flying the next morning, which Scott Key sees and then writes a new song. Using the known musical lyrics of that time, a style which was proven successful, he again creates a song to To Anacreon in Heaven.
To Anacreon in Heaven was in fact the original source of the musical rhyme and lyrics for the Star-Spangled Banner. Some 80 US songs to the tune pre-date Scott Key’s anthem, including songs from the French Revolution, drinking songs, songs about George Washington and John Adams, Campaign songs, Fourth of July songs, and patriotic songs.
The first print of the song was not titled the Star-Spangled Banner, but instead Defence of Fort McHenry. It was provided to newspapers, but also to all of the Americans who were in Fort McHenry following the British Attack. Clague notes likely the reason that the song scattered around the country so quickly, in a time without email and telecommunications, was due to those soldiers and citizens moving throughout the nation.
It was this in-depth research and reflection that Clague continues with his presentation illustrating how the Star-Spangled Banner originated, the development of the song’s style, and how it developed into its modern version. For example, Clague highlights how Star-Spangled Banner in fact rose to national importance with the Civil War, as at that point in our nation’ history, the US Flag and the anthem became sacred.
Throughout its history, by changing the verses, the Star-Spangled Banner has also served as a useful foundation and tool for movements including for equals rights of women, ending slavery, honoring peace from the Civil War.