The national anthem has been consistently played before sports games for over one hundred years.
In our twentieth-century world, the national anthem is performed by everyone from distinguished opera sings to relevant pop stars to faded rockstars to fabulous musicians. These performances range from successful, to downright bad. But why exactly do we sing the national anthem at sporting events?
We all know the lyrics — or a portion of the lyrics — to the star-spangled banner; but why do we sing the star-spangled banner at games? This article will walk you through all you need to know about the relationship between our national anthem and our national pastimes.
Star-Spangled Banner History
To answer questions about the national anthem at sporting events, we have to take a trip through history: All the way back to the war of 1812.
If you’re not familiar with this strange passage of American history, it was essentially the rematch to the American Revolution. Britain came back to reclaim what they still saw as “their colony” and got whipped once again.
In 1814, an attorney by the name of Francis Scott Key bore witness to the British siege of Fort Henry, while he was on a mission to rescue an American physician. The British lay siege with their guns, canons, and bombs for twenty-five hours before giving up.
Miraculously, after the whole siege, Francis Scott Key realized that the American Flag — not even fifty years old in design — still stood amidst the rubble of Fort McHenry. He wasn’t a poet by trade, but he realized that this was a moment that called for the pen, not the sword.
In a brave act of artistic patriotism, Francis Scott Key quickly wrote down a poem, which would later be set to a popular song, “To Anacreon in Heaven” to forge our national anthem.
National Anthem Lyrics
Looking at the lyrics of the national anthem, it makes sense that it was originally conceived as a poem. It’s much more beautiful and lyrical than every song we hear in public. It’s even more lyrical than many of the songs you heard back in 1814.
We don’t have space to write the whole poem here, but just take a look at the first four lines.
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
When you see it written out, the beauty of it truly starts to come together. You can see that the first four lines — which usually take almost half a minute to sing — are really one, long, triumphant question. This symbolizes just how long the siege was, and just how unsure the future of America felt at the time.
However, if you look at the symbolism of the poem, the message is clear. The narrator of the poet is admiring the waving American flag amidst all the smoke and rubble and is awe-struck to find it still standing.
It should also be noted that the star-spangled banner has four verses, whereas we almost always only sing one at sporting events. Check out the last lyrics to the final verse, for a cool variation on a song you’re surely familiar with.
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.
The Relationship to the Flag
Betsy Ross was a working flag maker and an American flag creator. She wasn’t a government official, just an everyday flagmaker — just like Francis Scott Key wasn’t a professional poet. It’s very fitting that both the American flag and the national anthem have the do-it-yourself exceptionalism that helped earn America freedom.
When we sing the national anthem at sporting events, we also fly the flag. Considering the lyrics of the star-spangled banner and its dramatic history, this is an extremely symbolic, artistic, and profound statement.
As the singer is reciting the verses of Francis Scott Key, they’re asking the questions that he asked as he saw the flag waving in the wind. What makes this flag wave under the most difficult circumstance? How can we live up to that as a nation?
As you can see, the singing of the national anthem is an important part of patriot pageantry and a pure-American tradition that keeps us tied to the humble roots of our nation. Unfortunately, the national anthem has become a political — and even a partisan — issue. Check out this article by Flagpole Farm on why we should stand for the flag.
Who’s the Best National Anthem Artist?
As stated earlier, the national anthem is performed by many different people at sporting events. While popstars like Steven Tyler and Fergie famously butchered the anthem, and it’s commonly over-sung so that one can’t hear the lyrics, there are some truly amazing versions out there.
Whitney Houston sang an exceptionally beautiful rendition at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Her version contains all the power the anthem requires, with none of the frills.
It should be noted that instrumental performances of our national anthem are also exceptionally beautiful. Just check out Jesse McGuire performing the national anthem on his trumpet. It makes sense that a jazz artist should perform the anthem so well since jazz is a uniquely American form of music.
The National Anthem At Sporting Events
The national anthem is over two hundred years old; for over one hundred years we’ve been performing the national anthem at sporting events.
The song has traveled a long way, from the heart of war at the heart of our country, to make its way to our ears. While we may hear it so often that it becomes standard to us, it’s important for us to remember — as a nation — just how important that song and its lyrics are.
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