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About this Piece

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was created during the War of 1812 in the midst the British bombardment of Fort McHenry. Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer, watched the battle unfold on the the night of September 14, 1814 from a sloop in Baltimore harbor, where he was negotiating a prisoner of war release with the British. At dawn, Key peered through his spyglass and saw that the flag above the Fort, a 42-foot by 30-foot gesture of defiance specially commissioned by the Fort's commander, was still flying. Inspired by the sight, Key immediately began to write his poem, completing it later in his Baltimore hotel room. He wrote the verses to fit a popular song of the time, "To Anacreon in Heaven," with music by the Englishman John Stafford Smith. Smith was a member of the Anacreontic Society, a drinking and singing club that he joined in 1766; he published "To Anacreon in Heaven" in a collection of songs in 1799. Key's poem was published as a handbill under the title "Defiance of Fort McHenry," but the public soon renamed it "The Star-Spangled Banner." Congress made it the national anthem in 1931.

- John Mangum