Have you heard any good renditions of the national anthem lately? I know “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung well on occasion but, alas, less than great performances seem to be the general rule nowadays. I’m beginning to believe that the greater the prominence and prestige of the singer, the lower the quality of the song.
Jerry Earl Johnston, in a recent Deseret News publication, voiced his opinion on the subject by saying, “I think the anthem has to be about the message, not the messenger. It has to be about the song, not the singer.
“Feelings of patriotism are so powerful; singers don’t need to embellish them. All they need to do is showcase them.”
So what has become of a simple, straightforward singing of Francis Scott Key’s immortal poem? It sometimes gets jazzed up to the point of being something other than the national anthem we have come to know and revere, which is respected around the world.
On April 9, eighteen Latter-day Saint missionaries, ten men and eight women, plus the group’s director, performed the national anthem prior to the Jazz-Spurs basketball game at the sold-out AT&T Center in San Antonio. Just prior to the closing strains of the song, the group was interrupted by spontaneous cheering and applause. “They allowed the words of the national anthem to speak through their hearts—and it was a memorable moment that will last for years.” (See and hear the performance on Face book)
While on board the British ship HMS Tonnant, Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) watched while the entire British navy bombarded the American forces at Fort McHenry. When the smoke cleared, Key was able to see that the American flag at the fort was still waving. He was so inspired by his experiences that in 1814 he published the poem, “In Defence of Fort McHenry,” which later became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
There is more to it than the single verse we sing as the national anthem. At one school activity I made an unusual request of the young woman who was to sing the anthem. I asked her to sing the second and third verses as a solo and to then invite the audience to join in and sing the familiar first verse with her. The audience listened in bewilderment as she sang the unfamiliar words of the second and third verses. Most of the 1300 present had no idea that the song consisted of much more than what is usually performed:
“Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
“On the shore, dimly seen thru the mists of the deep, Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half concealed, half discloses?
“Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam, In full glory reflected now shines on the stream; ‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh, long may it wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
“Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand Between their beloved homes and war’s desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
“Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!” And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”