• U.S.

Music: Anthem’s Anniversary

2 minute read

On the flagpole of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, men in War of 1812 uniforms raised an American flag with 15 stars. Breasting slowly up the Patapsco River came a Coast Guard picket boat, opened fire with its single small forward gun as cannon from the fort returned rounds of blanks. At battle’s end the flag on the fort still waved proudly. Thus re-enacted last week on its 125th anniversary was the episode which inspired Lawyer Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner.

Not wholly pleased by the proceedings was Lawyer Key’s lean and leathery great-grandson, Lieut. Colonel Francis Scott Key-Smith, who hyphenates his name “because there are so darn many Smiths.” Pleased was he that a painting of his ancestor, peering through dawn’s early light, was unveiled in Fort McHenry by Mrs. Reuben Ross Holloway, the tireless patriot who in 1931 helped make The Star-Spangled Banner the official as well as the actual national anthem. But so ill-pleased was he by the political overtones of an address by Presidential Aspirant Paul V. McNutt that he slipped quietly off the platform, went home before the celebrations were over.

Lawyer Key hated the War of 1812; shortly before he wrote his song was tempted to wish the eagle-screaming Baltimoreans would indeed be conquered. Descendant Key-Smith firmly believes that anyone can sing his ancestor’s anthem. Last July, when Metropolitan Tenor Frederick Jagel said no singer could be at home on a range like that, Lieut. Colonel Key-Smith snorted: “Any real tenor who says he can’t sing The Star-Spangled Banner is a fool.”

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