Nothing is capable of being well set to music that is not nonsense. — Joseph Addison

In all the years I spent in marching bands, from junior high to college, there was one thing we were all encouraged to do by each director — memorize the music. There is no way to figure how many pieces I had to learn during a football season, but it could be a sizable amount. Take into account the tunes needed for a show each week, plus the various fight and school songs involved, and you see my dilemma. Back then, though, the mind was still sharp as a tack. I generally had no problems in soaking up what piece was necessary for a given performance, gentle reader, except for one: “The Star Spangled Banner.” Although we played it at every event, that one never stuck in my head, which brings me to something I read in The Dallas Morning News last week -—not very many people know the exact words or in what order they come in; in fact, I didn’t know there are four verses instead of the one we’re familiar with.

Something else I didn’t know was the song didn’t become our official anthem until 1931 in an act signed by President Herbert Hoover, although Francis Scott Key wrote the words in 1814 during a bombing at Fort McKinley by British forces. It’s said Key was inspired to write the poem after seeing the sight of the stars and stripes still waving over the battered fort.

I’m sure you’ve heard various singers attempt to vocalize the lyrics, with mixed results, which usually makes one think some preparation should’ve been made beforehand if the performer had any doubts about knowing what they’re singing. The most “ha-ha” funny attempt was the butcher job by world-class sprinter Carl Lewis, who tried to put his own special flavor to his rendition some years ago. His first mistake was starting in a higher key than he could reach, making it all sound like a cat being strangled. He obviously should’ve stayed with track and field. I won’t even mention Roseanne Barr.

A lot of folks don’t care for the way many singers and performers “interpret” their versions of the anthem. In those peoples’ eyes it’s akin to blasphemy, although the most inspiring rendition came 15 years ago at Super Bowl XXV by Whitney Houston. Desert Storm had just begun, and people were feeling a little patriotic. Although I don’t particularly like her, she did a job on the anthem that day, bringing tears to grown men’s eyes.

Over the years there has been a small movement to change the national anthem to “America the Beautiful.” Critics say the “Banner” is not in keeping with the spirit of the country, that it glorifies conflict, and is hard to properly sing while “America” better exemplifies the beauty of our entire nation, “from sea to shining sea.”

The most likely scenario is we’ll continue to have the “Banner,” flop over the words from time to time, and laugh when some star does the same. At least we’re trying to be good citizens by trying to get it right.


Ken Hall is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears Sundays and Thursdays. He may be reached via e-mail at

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