I’m not all that fond of the song chosen to be our National Anthem.
More on that later.
Why do we play our National Anthem at every sporting event? Every baseball game, football game, baskerball game, hockey game, racing event, horse race, and don’t forget all college, high school and youth sporting events have to play the anthem before the game.
As the event becomes more important (play-offs, world series, super bowls, etc) why do we see a bigger military presence with men in uniforms, giant flags stretched across the entire field, our best and biggest jets flying above the stadium and of course pop stars doing the singing?
What does uniformed servicemen, weaponry, planes, national anthems and Marvin Gaye have to do with playing sports?
Why do I have to stand up when the anthem is playing?
Why do I have to take off my hat?
And when did this hand over my heart thing start and why?
I know. It’s like questioning religion. But, I do that, too.
I don’t like doing things because my parents or you tell me I’m supposed to.
I just want to know why.
And not because you (Mr. do as I say) said so or because of the word “tradition.”
MANY TRADITIONS TURN ME OFF!
We humans have had lots of traditions that went unquestioned for decades, even centuries, until somebody politely asked questions.
“Why does our sacred constitution have a 3/5 clause considering how we count black people?”
“Why do we allow people to own other people as slaves?”
“Why can’t women vote?”
“Why is it unlawful for mixed races to marry?”
“Why can’t gay people marry like other people who love each other?”
“Why can’t a man with ties to over 500 foreign investors, some of them crooks and others that are arms manufacturers, and a man who has hundreds of millions in loans from Russian oligarchs, show us his tax papers before he runs our country?”
Questioning things is important.
Answers, and finding truths is even more important.
Don’t ever ask me to sing the National Anthem. I can’t. Its tonal range is almost silly and I would sound much like Rosanne Barr did in San Diego, though I wouldn’t grab my crotch at the end. The melody is stolen from an old English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”
The Anacreon Society was a men’s club of wealthy amateur musicians who met every Wednesday night in English pubs for some heavy drinking and eating with singing and poetry. The club was named for Anacreon, a Greek poet who wrote drinking songs and odes to love.
If we formed one of those clubs today it might be called “The Elvis Society” and we’d sit around singing “put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere, oh let me be, Your Teddy Bear.”
So, first of all, this whole anthem song thing started with a poem by this pro-slavery, anti-black, anti-abolitionist named Frances Scott Key. (what? They didn’t teach that to you in school? And they taught you what about Christopher Columbus?)
F.S. Key was an aristocrat and a city prosecutor in Washington, D.C. He put people in jail for placing flyers about abolitionist beliefs. He thought black folks were mentally inferior and wanted to send them back to Africa if they were free. He particularly didn’t like the Colonial Marines. This was a group of runaway slaves who the British recruited to fight with a promise of freedom in return for their service. Underlying his hatred (and feelings about blacks being inferior) was the fact that the Colonial Marines whipped his ass good when he was a Lieutenant in the Battle of Bladensburg. That victory inspired the British troops to continue their march into Washington where they preceded to burn the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress and the White House.
Yes he was very happy to see the flag still flying over Fort McHenry because it halted the British and his hated black Colonial Marines because his poem, our anthem says so. We just don’t let those words be sung or spoken. We stick to the first verse only. If we didn’t we wouldn’t have just Colin Kaepernick sitting down, we would have every black player turning their back on the racist words. I would join them, too.
These slaves, after all, were just fighting for their freedom.
No, I didn’t want my brand new country over-run by the British again, but this particular song just doesn’t make a justifiable national anthem. Let’s all sing this normally unsung verse together:
And where is that band, who so vauntingly swore(oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light)
that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Key already knew the Anacreon Society tune/melody because he had already wrote his own lyrics to it called, “When the Warrior Returns.” It had the flag imagery stuff and some of the same wording he used in the National Anthem. He wrote it about the First Barberry War. When he penned his Fort McHenry poem he used the same rhythm of his first poem to fit the same melody.
As America wound into the 20th century, John Phillip Sousa, the great 2/4 stomper, had a say-so in the arranging of the Star Spangled Banner so it featured a nice military march feel to a waltz tempo. The US Navy band liked it and then President Woodrow Wilson liked it. It didn’t become “our” National Anthem until 1931, when our country was devastated with the stock market crash and the great depression. We needed a “pick-me-up-feel-good” song.
We had our choice between two melodies, both stolen from England. “God Save The Queen” had become “Our Country tis of thee,” and of course the English bar-room diddy became the Star Spangled Banner.
The usage of the tune at sporting events didn’t happen regularly until the World Series between the Chicago Cubs (not a misprint, they were there) vs the Boston Red Sox in 1918. Our country was in the doldrums. We had already lost 100,000 men in WWI and more men, yes even baseball players, were needed at the front lines. Babe Ruth was making his final appearance as a Red Sox player, a great pitcher no less, and the Cubs were considered the powerhouse team of the day. Major League baseball ordered the season to be shut down by Labor Day so this was the only World Series to be played entirely in September.
A labor battle was going on in Chicago and the day before the series began, September 4, a bomb blast ripped up the Chicago Federal Building, killing four and injuring 30 people. The Cubs had rented Comiskey Park (White Sox Field) because their ball park only seated 14,000. Comiskey held 30,000 and a sell-out was expected. Well, only 19,000 showed up and they were silent, sullen and depressed. Babe Ruth was pitching a shut-out and by the 7th inning Cub fans were heading for the exits. It was common during the 7th inning stretch for military bands to play and on this day the band fired up The Star Spangled Banner.
The guy playing 3rd base for the Red Sox was on loan from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago (they had already lost NINE third basemen to the draft during the season). Upon hearing the Star Spangled Banner (one of the navy’s favorite songs back then) the player standing at 3rd base promptly went to attention, turned to the flag and saluted. Upon seeing this all the other Red Sox players on the field dropped their gloves, came to attention and placed their right hands over their hearts. The crowd saw this, stood up and those that knew the words joined in. At the end of the song, long applause and cheers rang out and even though Ruth went on to finish his 1-0 shut-out, the crowd was noisily into the game.
Management noticed this and repeated the 7th inning “Banner playing” the next game with the same results.
These results weren’t lost on the Red Sox owners who were hosting the third game. They decided to do the Cubs one better. Before the game started they gave away tickets to veterans and had all the wounded veterans take the field and the Star Spangled Banner was played before the game even started.
It worked. The war-depressed crowd loved it. Cheering, clapping and hot dog buying happened.
And here we are today. Whitney, Jennifer, Beyonce, Marvin, Jordin, Destiny’s Child, etc.
That’s almost the rest of the story… not quite…but enough for now.