O say can you hear? : a cultural biography of The Star-spangled banner

by Clague, Mark, 1966-

Format: Print Book 2022
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Most Americans learn the tale in elementary school: During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key witnessed the daylong bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry by British navy ships; seeing the Stars and Stripes still flying proudly at first light, he was inspired to pen his famous lyric. What Americans don't know is the story of how this everyday ?broadside ballad,? one of thousands of such topical songs that captured the events and emotions of early American life, rose to become the nation's one and only anthem and today's magnet for controversy.

In O Say Can You Hear? Mark Clague brilliantly weaves together the stories of the song and the nation it represents. Examining the origins of both text and music, alternate lyrics and translations, and the song's use in sports, at times of war, and for political protest, he argues that the anthem's meaning reflects?and is reflected by?the nation's quest to become a more perfect union. From victory song to hymn of sacrifice and vehicle for protest, the story of Key's song is the story of America itself.

Each chapter in the book explores a different facet of the anthem's story. In one, we learn the real history behind the singing of the anthem at sporting events; in another, Clague explores Key's complicated relationship with slavery and its repercussions today. An entire is chapter devoted to some of the most famous performances of the anthem, from Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock to Roseanne Barr at a baseball game to the iconic Whitney Houston version from the 1991 Super Bowl. At every turn, the book goes beyond the events to explore the song's resonance and meaning.

From its first lines Key's lyric poses questions: ?O say can you see?? ?Does that banner yet wave?? Likewise, Clague's O Say Can You Hear? raises important questions about the banner; what it meant in 1814, what it means to us today, and why it matters.

Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "Americans take their national anthem for granted. Sung at sporting events and patriotic commemorations, it is also often parodied, and invoked both to defend conventional patriotic sentiments as well as to criticize and protest. University of Michigan musicology professor Clague traces the history of this remarkable song from its roots in the Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812, as young lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key witnessed a several-day battle against a superior British fleet. Published in newspapers of the time, his verses stirred hearts and minds in the young republic. A tune by British composer John Stafford Smith was soon appropriated despite its notoriously difficult range for singers. After the Civil War, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. proposed an additional verse. Clague's careful historical interpretation of the third stanza's reference to "the hireling and slave" deems it an anti-British protest. The temperance -movement offered its own revisions to condemn demon rum. Recent American immigrants find deep emotional connection to their adopted national song. Most recently, the playing of the anthem has been a platform for protest of historical injustices. In contemporary culture wars, where everything gets reduced to partisan politics, Clague's thoughtful and comprehensive history will resonate."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Musicologist Clague debuts with a sparkling study of America's national anthem. He recounts how the successful defense of Baltimore's Fort McHenry against the British navy's bombardment during the War of 1812 inspired lawyer Francis Scott Key--who witnessed the battle from an unarmed "truce ship" in the city's harbor--to describe the event in lyrics set to the tune of an 18th-century song composed by Englishman John Stafford Smith. Such "newspaper ballads," Clague explains, were "the viral meme, tweets, and TikToks of early America." Noting that "no other song of the era became so broadly popular so fast," Clague analyzes the lyrics' "volatile emotional journey, from fear and uncertainty through relief and pride, to anger and determination, to pious gratitude and prayer, and finally to patriotic devotion," and examines alternative versions penned to support abolition, unionization, and other progressive causes. He also vividly recreates noteworthy performances, including Jimi Hendrix's psychedelic reinterpretation at Woodstock, Roseanne Barr's profane recital in front of an MLB crowd, and Whitney Houston's stirring rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl. Stuffed with colorful character sketches, intriguing historical arcana, and memorable musical insights, this pitch-perfect history hits all the right notes. (June)"
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Additional Information
Subjects Star-spangled banner (Song)
Patriotic music -- United States -- History and criticism.
Publisher New York :W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,2022
Edition First edition.
Language English
Description xvi, 325 pages : illustrations, map, music ; 24 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 257-305) and index.
ISBN 9780393651386
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