They’re emblems of the nation, but their origins are local: the huge, hand-made flag that flew over Ft. McHenry in 1814 and the anthem it inspired. As Baltimore prepares to celebrate their bicentennial, we explore little-known tales of the people and events that produced them. Did you know an old British drinking song inspired the tune that became our most patriotic hymn? Kojo examines the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and how it became the U.S. national anthem a century after it was written.


  • Vince Vaise Chief of Interpretation, Ft. McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine


  • 13:23:16

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIA giant flag over Ft. McHenry, a local lawyer named Francis Scott Key on a boat in Baltimore Harbor and the red glare of British rockets lighting up the night sky. Two hundred years ago this week the British attacked Ft. McHenry near the end of the War of 1812. After a long night of fighting the victorious Americans hoisted a huge flag over the fort. Out in the harbor Francis Scott Key saw it and wrote his famous song that became the national anthem.

  • 13:23:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut did you know it took a century before "The Star Spangled Banner" became the official anthem of the nation or that Key set the words to an old English drinking song? Do you know the role baseball played in elevating the stature of the song? A week-long celebration is underway at Ft. McHenry to mark the anthem's bicentennial. And joining me to share some of the little-known stories of the flag and the song's rise to prominence is Vince Vaise. He is chief of interpretation at Ft. McHenry. He joins us from studios at WYBR in Baltimore. Vince Vaise, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:24:18

    MR. VINCE VAISEIt's a pleasure to be here.

  • 13:24:19

    NNAMDIOn a matter of clarification, what does a chief of interpretation do?

  • 13:24:25

    VAISEWell, you know, that's kind of a highfalutin word for head storyteller, anything that tells the story, whether it's a museum exhibit or a ranger-led program, anything that communicates that awesome message.

  • 13:24:35

    NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for explaining. Let's start with the flag that inspired the national anthem. Why did Major George Armistead, the commander of Ft. McHenry in 1814 commission a huge flag to fly over his fort? What was going on in the War of 1812 at the time? What message was he trying to send and to whom?

  • 13:24:55

    VAISEYeah well, you know, here's the thing. The War of 1812 starts in 1812 but it doesn't end at 1812. So it goes into 1813 and it doesn't go particularly well. The British had blockaded the entire east coast. They turned the Chesapeake Bay virtually into a British Lake. And on most days Armistead, who was recently sent to the fort, could take a spyglass and look down the river and see the white sails of the British ships as they glided up and down the bay. And he knew that it was only a matter of time before the British would decide to attack Baltimore, which was the third largest city in the country at the time and a valuable prize if it should fall.

  • 13:25:32

    VAISEAnd he also realized that most of the battles and skirmishes around the Chesapeake Bay were American defeats, just like most of the battles that we fought in Canada were American defeats as well. So he wanted something that would really inspire his own troops, something that would calm the fears of the civilians living in Baltimore and something that would show the British that the fort wouldn't give up without a pretty tough fight.

  • 13:25:54

    NNAMDIOur guest is Vince Vaise. He is chief of interpretation at Ford McHenry. We're talking about "The Star Spangled Banner". This is its bicentennial. We're talking about the history of our national anthem, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you know about the history of the American flag? You can also send email to Vince Vaise, the flag was made by a Baltimore woman who made a lot of the ship's colors and signal flags for the military and merchant ships that sailed into Baltimore's port. What do we know about Mary Pickersgill? How long did it take her to make the flag and who helped her?

  • 13:26:31

    VAISESo Mary Pickersgill, she was in her mid 30s when she made "The Star Spangled Banner" flag. You're right, she lived in Baltimore City. And she ran a boarding house. So she was a widow. So -- and women could own businesses, particularly if they were widows. She had help. Her 13-year-old daughter Caroline assisted her. She also had some nieces and then also Grace Wisher who was an African American indentured servant, helped make the flag as well. It took about a month to hand stitch the huge 30 by 42 foot flag made out of ironically English wool bunting.

  • 13:27:07

    NNAMDIShe -- the flag was actually made in 1813 and brought to the fort...

  • 13:27:12

    VAISEThat's right.

  • 13:27:12 that no correct?

  • 13:27:14

    VAISEThat's right. They made it in 1813. Like I said, it took about a month. They also made a smaller version of that flag. And their idea of small back then was 17 by 25 feet. And both of those flags were delivered to Ft. McHenry. No one knew when the real attack would occur. As it stood it occurred in September, 1814.

  • 13:27:32

    NNAMDIExplain what spangled means in relation to the stars on the flag.

  • 13:27:37

    VAISESo today there's a lot of regulations on how you make the flag. It has to be proportioned a certain way, the stars have to be laid out a certain way. In the early days of the United States they didn't really worry about all of that. So to spangle the stars is to tilt them. So today we see our stars straight up and down. But if you kind of cock them off to one side, that was historically known as spangling the stars. And it's a pretty neat aesthetic because when the flag waves in the breeze it looks like the stars are shimmering, like twinkling in the night sky.

  • 13:28:06

    NNAMDIFascinating. As I said, you can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What's your favorite performance of "The Star Spangled Banner"? You can send us email to Or if you have comments about the history of the American flag you can also go to our website and join the conversation there.

  • 13:28:25

    NNAMDIYou mentioned, Vince, that in the early days there weren't a lot of standards or rules about the proportions of a flag. The one that flew over Ft. McHenry was almost square. How has that changed overtime?

  • 13:28:36

    VAISEYeah, I mean, like I said, the flag was 30 by 42 feet. As time went on, the flag became a more recognized national symbol. And as that took place, the government decided to start regulating the proportions of the flag. So right now, the American flag is 1.9 the length versus the width. So it's almost like a perfect rectangle, twice as long as it is high. That's one of the many changes that they did.

  • 13:29:04

    VAISEThe other one was proportion of how wide the stripes should be. One cool thing that Mary Pickersgill did when she stitched the flag is there was a 15-stripe flag as well as a 15-star flag and they sewed the red strip right underneath the blue field or canton as they call it in flag terms. And that really makes the flag stand out.

  • 13:29:26

    NNAMDIAll they had to have in those days was stars, a blue field and stripes.

  • 13:29:31

    VAISERight. As long as you had what -- you know there was -- okay, the first American flag, 13 stars, 13 stripes. The second version of the American flag was 15 and 15. So as long as you hit that number, you're good to go.

  • 13:29:43

    NNAMDISo we have a flag and we've all heard of Francis Scott Key. How did this local lawyer end up on a ship in the harbor watching the battle of Ft. McHenry?

  • 13:29:55

    VAISESo when the British were marching on Washington, D.C. they stopped in Upper Marlboro. A very prominent citizen named Dr. Williams Beanes entertained the British. And he did his job a little bit too well. He almost convinced the British that he was very pro-British himself, which he wasn't. The British then defeated the American army, burned the capitol. And then when they left, they were heading back through Upper Marlboro and a couple British stragglers started raiding chicken coups and creating some mayhem. And Dr. Beanes quickly showed his colors and took them prisoner.

  • 13:30:27

    VAISEOne of them escaped and formed the high command. And the British were enraged. They said, you know, this guys' a phony. He broke his word. We're taking him prisoner. And they did. Well, this was an outrage in the United States to take a civilian prisoner. And the federal government sent a man named John Skinner to negotiate Dr. Beanes' release. However, Dr. Beanes was well connected. And there was a guy named Richard West and he knew Francis Scott Key and told Key, hey, why don't you go help this guy out? Key got permission from the President of the United States. And Francis Scott key went out to rescue Dr. William Beanes.

  • 13:31:04

    NNAMDIOkay. How did the flag that he saw rise over Ft. McHenry at the dawn's early light indicate to him the Americans had won the overnight battle for the fort?

  • 13:31:17

    VAISESo Francis Scott Key was out on the truce ship. They had negotiated the release of Dr. Beanes but they couldn't go anywhere until the battle was over. So they're watching the play-by-play through a spyglass. Well, it was raining during the battle so the large flag was actually taken down and the smaller flag was put up in its place. Now, Key is five miles away. It's raining, it's cloudy. There're gun smoke. I don't think he could see the flag, especially as the bombardment was 25-hours long and continued into the night. And you didn't have electric lights that you could illuminate the flag with.

  • 13:31:49

    VAISESo Key would write, and he wrote this in the anthem, the rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that the flag was still there meaning he could not see the flag but he could figure out something must be there because the British are stilling shelling the fort. Dawn's early light though, he's pretty nervous because the bombardment ended. So his question is, did the British win or did the American prevail?

  • 13:32:10

    MR. ARMANDO TRULLHe's looking through the spyglass and then at 9:00 in the morning he hears the fort's morning cannon boom. And then he looks and just coincidentally the sun had come out, the rain had ended for awhile and the commander of the fort, George Armistead who ordered the big flag to begin with, ordered the small rain-soaked flag to be hauled down and the gigantic flag hoisted, kind of like an in-your-face gesture to the British. And that's when Francis Scott Key saw the big flag and was emotionally driven to write the words that became our country's song.

  • 13:32:43

    NNAMDIBut the rains stopped, the sun comes out. This is all -- you can't control that. That's serendipity.

  • 13:32:49

    VAISEIt is. It's like a movie. You know, I'm surprised that Hollywood hasn't made a big movie about this yet. I mean, it's not like even Armistead coordinated the whole thing with Key, like, okay, go out there on the boat. Wait for me to get the big flag up. You're going to like it. No, none of that happened. And, I mean, September, you know how the weather is. It rains, it's sunny, you know, it's windy. It's Maryland weather. And so, you're right, it was serendipity on a grand scale.

  • 13:33:13

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you know about the history of the American flag? What's your favorite performance of "The Star Spangled Banner"? Give us a call. We're talking with Vince Vaise. He is chief of interpretation at Ft. McHenry. He joins us from the studios of WYBR in Baltimore. You can also join us by sending email to Or you can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website and join the conversation there.

  • 13:33:39

    NNAMDIVince, we learn in history class that Francis Scott Key wrote a poem that was later put to music. But apparently he thought of it has a song right from the very beginning and set his words...

  • 13:33:50

    VAISEHe did.

  • 13:33:51

    NNAMDI...set his words to a tune that he liked, a popular British drinking song. How did the song initially spread and become popular in its own day?

  • 13:34:01

    VAISEYeah so, there was a song called "To Anacreon in Heaven." That's the melody that you hear when you hear ""The Star Spangled Banner". There was a society in London called the Anacreonic Society and they were fairly well-to-do patrons of the arts, businessmen who gave money to poets, playwrights, music writers. Handel who wrote "The Messiah" belonged to this society. So it wasn't just, say, a bunch of boozers or anything like that, although I'm sure they enjoyed a good pint.

  • 13:34:29

    VAISEThe Anacreonic Society used that melody as their theme song. Copyright was pretty fast and loose in this era. So historians have proven that that melody formed the basis of over 80 different songs before Francis Scott Key plugged his own words into it. Key clearly had that melody in his head when he saw the flag by dawn's early light. And that's why it caught on.

  • 13:34:51

    VAISEOne of the other reasons it caught on, because everyone knew how to sing it already. Oh yeah, the Anacreonic music? Yeah, we know that. And so it went viral, okay, by the standards of the day. And, you know, historically in coach stops or taverns or boarding houses, I mean, people sang as a form of recreation. So if you had a popular song, particularly about a battle that you thought you would lose and then you turn around and win it, that's something to crow about.

  • 13:35:17

    NNAMDIClap along -- was that song of the day, huh?

  • 13:35:20

    VAISEPretty much, pretty much. I mean, you know, I was really -- we did research on how fast it spread. And, I mean, you know, it was in Boston like three weeks later, which was really, really quick. It was in Georgia about like two months later. So, I mean, it literally went viral.

  • 13:35:40

    NNAMDIHere now on the phone is Sucrea. Sucrea, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:35:47

    SUCREAHi. My name's Sucrea (word?) and I'm from Turkey. And I do little (word?) event every once in a while. Monday, you know, I hung the American flag next to my flag, Turkish flag, but I didn't know how to hang. I hang wrongly. It's like stars came instead of right side, I put on the left side. But so many people came my event, almost 50, 60 people, but nobody tell me, you know, the flag was hang wrongly. But the next day when I was picking up the flag, one military guy came, like he was a colonel, told my ear, he was like, do you know you hang the American flag wrong way?

  • 13:36:29

    SUCREAI was like, I'm very sorry, you know. I didn't know. I have kids. They go high school. You know, we hang together. Nobody tell me how to hang. You know, I have to tell him sorry because I didn't know. And I think in the schools they don't really teach the kids how they hang American flag or they don't give enough education because I say nobody even warn me. And I felt terrible because it's kind of -- I was being disrespectful, but I didn't know. I didn't mean to.

  • 13:36:56

    NNAMDIAnd Sucrea, you seem to be suggesting that your kids, being in school here, should have known, right?

  • 13:37:01

    SUCREAYes. My kids. And then, I had so many people call my event. They have college degree and (word?) degree. They have high school. There was politicians actually there. Nobody did not tell me. And I felt terrible, you know. I was embarrassed. I was like, they don't -- I guess they don't teach enough about the flag, what the flag means. In our country, you know, flag is very important. Flag is symbol of freedom. And it's very important for us, but here...

  • 13:37:32

    NNAMDIIt's important in just about all countries and it certainly is here. Vince Vaise, it looks like you have some advocating to do for school curricula.

  • 13:37:39

    VAISEI think you're right. I think you're right. I mean, well, first of all, bring your kids up to Ft. McHenry. We'd love to have them. We can tell you all about flag etiquette and learn a little history. It's really neat. But one thing that you can do online, like Google search or something, you know, you can do like U.S. flag code. And I think that's important. And I say flag code. It's not flag law. You're not going to go to jail if the flag isn't hung just so. It's a tradition. It's a code.

  • 13:38:05

    VAISEAnd I think that's really neat, too, because it's not like you're being forced to do this. But the flag code is a neat way to find out what these traditions are. And it's true, there's a thing where when you hang the flag vertically, the blue field or canton should be faced to, as you look at it, your left. But they call it the flag's own right. You know, kind of like if you're a person and you turn around where your right arm would be, that kind of thing.

  • 13:38:34

    VAISEThere's a lot of those interesting things, how to fold the flag like a triangle. And the flag code said that that evolved as a sign of respect for the founding fathers since, you know, like in the George Washington time they wore those unique three-cornered hats. Some say it's for the three branches of government. So a lot of neat traditions in how we take care of that flag.

  • 13:38:55

    NNAMDISucrea, thank you very much for your call. We move on now to A.J. in Baltimore, Md. A.J., you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:04

    A.J.Hi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 13:39:05

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:39:07

    A.J.I just had a comment about the -- actually the War of 1812 license plates that Maryland has. And I was wondering if your guest knows how that came about. I'm personally not a big fan of the license plates. I think Maryland has one of the greatest flags in the United States. And the previous license plate was very simple. It had a little Maryland flag and we changed it to this War of 1812 license plate, which I wasn't really sure that the War of 1812 really needed anymore publicity, or at least the kind of publicity that being on a state license plate gives you.

  • 13:39:41

    A.J.And I'm curious, Vince, what do you think? Do you think that it was -- it's the right thing for them to be on our Maryland State license plates? I know that they go away in June. I'm hoping we bring back something cooler or something cool like we had before. Yeah, but that’s sort of my...

  • 13:39:55

    NNAMDIWhat do you find un-cool about it, A.J.?

  • 13:39:59

    A.J.I look at other state license plates and, I don't know, I just think that it doesn't give enough state pride. I feel like there's an American flag on it.

  • 13:40:10

    NNAMDII'll have the chief of interpretation interpret this for you. Because I suspect cool is in the eyes of the beholder. Vince Vaise.

  • 13:40:18

    VAISEWell, A.J., you're a man after my own heart in a way. All right. I love the Maryland State flag, you know? It's the only state flag that has, you know, a British coat of arms. And just the checker and the bottony cross is particularly pretty. Now, of course, I'm the chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry, and that's on the license plate. So if you ask me which I like better, of course it's Fort McHenry. I think that, though, the thing is with the War of 1812, I think it does need a little publicity, because a lot of Americans don't know it. They don't know that Maryland is the Star Spangled State. They don't know about Fort McHenry.

  • 13:40:54

    VAISEAnd here's the thing, like, when you go to Philadelphia, everyone says, oh yeah, Liberty Bell, Independence Hall. You go to Boston. Oh, yeah, you can go see Old Ironsides. And Bunker Hill is right over there. You go to Baltimore and you're like, okay, tell us about what's famous about Baltimore. And people are like, well, I think during the Revolution there was something, you know, with this Fort McHenry. I mean, I don't really know. We're, you know, we got the Inner Harbor, you know? And I'm not really sure what else we got, you know. So I think we needed that shot in the arm during the bicentennial to wake everyone up.

  • 13:41:29

    VAISEBut you're dead right. You know, it's a state license plate. But the American flag is a national symbol. And I think that just really highlights the fact that we have this incredible story that exists, you know, on the local level. It's a proud local story. It's a proud state story. But it's also a national story. And the national anthem is really Maryland's gift to the country. No other state can claim a national anthem.

  • 13:41:56

    NNAMDIA.J., thank you very much for your call. Vince, we got this email from Karen in Silver Spring who writes, "Speaking of the Maryland flag, what does Vince think of the uniforms of the Maryland football team that they're going to be wearing this weekend, that apparently have the lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner" written on them in script? I frankly think they look terrible. But the idea is cool," says Karen.

  • 13:42:18

    VAISEYeah, I haven't seen them yet. Although, this morning, I had my own moment with the original manuscript of "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Maryland Historical Society was very nice and loaned the Fort Francis Scott Key's first draft for the week, through the 14th. And I was in there -- I got in real early just to look at it and just to look at the words, and it was mesmerizing. Because you can see his little scratch-outs. You know, even he didn't get it right the first time. And I think to give people a sense of the words, you know, everyone's like, rah, the flag. And that's great.

  • 13:42:50

    VAISEBut it's really the anniversary of the birth of the worlds of the anthem, and to raise consciousness about, that I think that's a good idea. I'd like to see what those jerseys look like, though.

  • 13:43:01

    NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Vince Vaise about "The Star-Spangled Banner" bicentennial. You can still call us at 800-433-8850 with your questions or comments. What's your favorite performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner"? Send us an email to or shoot us a tweet @ kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:23

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing "The Star-Spangled Banner" bicentennial with Vince Vaise. He is chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry. Vince, the song didn't become the official national anthem until 1931. How did it beat out "Yankee Doodle" and other patriotic songs? And how did this World War I patriotism and America's favorite pastime, baseball, help boost it to the number one spot as our official national anthem?

  • 13:45:52

    VAISEYeah. So in the early days, there really wasn't -- most countries didn't have one piece of music that was the national anthem. What was used as a collection of songs, and you could pick one that really represented your country. And it varied from nation to nation. Now, when World War I rolls around, the idea came about to -- that during the seventh-inning stretch of the baseball game, to play "The Star-Spangled Banner." And the reason for that was, it was the golden era of baseball. It was also a time where -- actually the first time in our nation's history where we had thousands and thousands of soldiers serving overseas.

  • 13:46:29

    VAISESo back home, we're enjoying sports. And overseas, you've got young guys dying for the nation. So the idea is, we should show solidarity with those at the front. So one way of doing that was to play "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the seventh-inning stretch of the national sport. That was 1917. It wasn't long before someone said, you know what? We ought to begin the national sport with "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's not that respectful to do it at the seventh-inning stretch. It looks like you're using it as filler. So that's when it started the practice of playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to begin the baseball games.

  • 13:47:06

    VAISEWell, after World War I was over, during the 1920s, there was a lot of talk about designating other pieces of -- designating a national anthem and what that piece would be. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was one suggestion. "America the Beautiful" was another suggestion. "Hail, Columbia," which used to be really popular, was another suggestion. "Yankee Doodle" was out there somewhere too. And it was actually a movement by a woman. Her name was Ella Hauk Holloway. And she belonged to an organization called The United States Daughters of 1812. And these are women who are descended from the soldiers and sailors who fought way, way back during the War of 1812.

  • 13:47:48

    VAISEAnd she got signatures on a petition. And she worked with a guy named John Charles Linthicum, who was a U.S. Representative from Maryland, actually my home town in Linthicum, Md. And he sponsored a number of bills, most of which failed, to make "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official national anthem. There was a breakthrough moment though, when they collected over one million signatures on the petition, largely from World War I veterans who really were happy that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung by Americans back home during the baseball game to show solidarity with them as they fought at the front lines over in France.

  • 13:48:28

    VAISEAnd in 1931, a House Resolution designated "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the official national anthem for the United States of America.

  • 13:48:38

    NNAMDIWe had a caller who couldn't stay on the line. But he wanted to know that since we have standards and proportions for the American flag, are there any rules about -- regulations about how the national anthem can be played?

  • 13:48:53

    VAISEThere almost were. Back around 1916, there was -- the president of the United States send out a movement to try to standardize the national anthem. And a number of famous musical people were involved in that, John Philip Sousa perhaps being the most recognized. And the idea was to standardize the national anthem -- that it should always be scored in B-flat, that all the notes should be essentially cast in stone. And that lasted for about a year. But it didn't really catch on. There was no vote taken to designate it as official, unlike there was, say, for the, you know, for the designating of the national anthem. But there was no vote to designate one way to play it.

  • 13:49:43

    VAISEAnd so even to this day, there's a lot of variation -- which is quite acceptable -- in how you play our country's song. And, you know, that's great. I think, you know, it shows really how expressive we are as a people, creativity, and that every American can make it their own.

  • 13:50:01

    NNAMDIOkay. Let's listen to an instrumental version of the national anthem. This is a medley we've put together, starting with John Philip Sousa and the United States Marine Band, followed by Duke Ellington, and ending with Jimi Hendrix's controversial performance at Woodstock.

  • 13:51:51

    NNAMDIOkay. Instrumental renditions ending with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Now, let's listen to a medley of vocalists offering their renditions of the national anthem. This is Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl in 1991, Nsync at the 2000 World Series, Baltimore Orioles fans shouting out their "Oh," and Idina Menzel at this year's Baseball All Star Game.

  • 13:54:04

    NNAMDII can do that. Vince Vaise, what does each of these medleys tell us about the many interpretations of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in modern times?

  • 13:54:13

    VAISEWell, I think Whitney Houston, I mean, now was just totally awesome. And that was really the first time in a very long time, if ever, that someone put it in 4/4 time. I mean, I know they had a lot of reservations, like, you know, are Americans really going to really accept this, you know, kind of avant-garde way of doing it. And it was actually, to this day, one of the finest versions ever done. Another -- the other -- the famous "Oh" that is screamed out when you come here to Baltimore -- or as we say, Bal'mer -- to hear the Orioles -- to watch the Orioles play. You know, that's one of those things, some people love it, some people hate it.

  • 13:54:45

    VAISEI like to think that, you know, if it wasn't for Baltimorians, we wouldn't have the national anthem. So perhaps we give them a pass to be able to say, "Oh." It's more like an esprit de corps pride thing. It's not really a sign of disrespect. And then, as far as the Idina Menzel, what can I say? That is -- that's really fantastic. I mean we worked a lot this Fourth of July, actually. Our fife and drum corps was actually up at the Macy's Fireworks Parade up there in New York. And they were so happy that we came up there on the bicentennial year. We actually -- they gave us a really nice autographed copy of Idina Menzel's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

  • 13:55:26

    VAISEAnd, you know, Idina Menzel is just loved by young kids, including my own daughter. And so I think when you have an icon like that, it makes history and it makes things like "The Star-Spangled Banner" cool. You know, it's not just something that grownups do.

  • 13:55:40

    NNAMDIBecky in McLean, Va., has her own favorite. Becky, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:55:44

    BECKYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I think my very favorite version is the one that the Stanford University Marching Band plays. It was arranged by their faculty advisor and director many, many years ago. And I'm told that it was -- he copyrighted it so it could only be played when the band recorded it or at Stanford home games. It's starts with a single trumpet, goes on for a while and then slowly but surely all the sections of the band get added in until the end is really full. It's a really, really nice version.

  • 13:56:12

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for that. On to Mike in Myersville, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:56:19

    MIKEYeah, I just had a quick question. I'd be curious as to your thoughts about the fact that we really only ever sing the first verse. And there are three other really good verses that follow. And particularly since the first verse is a question, whereas the last verse...

  • 13:56:31


  • 13:56:31 the only one that ends in a declarative statement. So I'd be curious on your thoughts on that.

  • 13:56:35

    NNAMDIWhy don't we sing all four verses, Vince?

  • 13:56:37

    VAISEWell, we will on the 14th of September by our Dawn's Early Light Ceremony that we're having at 8:30. And you're welcome to come. But I think the gentlemen is probably one of the most astute visitors that I ever talked to, because you're dead right. Francis Scott Key was a lawyer. And, you know, when you make a case, your conclusion is really important. That's what you want the judge and jury to remember. So I think if you were to go back in time and ask Francis Scott Key, "Key, what's the most important verse?" He would say, "Oh, the last one. That's why I saved the best for last." And, literally, and everything.

  • 13:57:13

    VAISEBut every verse has something to say. The first one is a question. And we would take heat once in a while, because we would put the first verse, as Key wrote it, in an exhibit. And people would say, why are you questioning American's patriotism? And it's like, we're not. That's the way Key wrote it. He couldn't see the flag. The second verse is where key is on the water and he says he saw the flag. That's the proof the flag was still there. And then the third verse, Key is really angry at the British. So he kind of vents. I call the third verse the venting verse, where he calls the British, foul footsteps, pollution...

  • 13:57:43

    NNAMDIAnd the fourth verse, you've only got about 30 seconds.

  • 13:57:46

    VAISEHe's euphoric, man. You know, oh, thus be it everyone. Free men shall stand. It's like, you know, put up or go home. And we put up and won the battle. And Key's religiosity comes out in that verse too.

  • 13:57:59

    NNAMDISunday, September 14 -- that morning, the big celebration of "The Star-Spangled Banner" bicentennial. You can get that at Fort McHenry. Thank you so much for joining us, Vince.

  • 13:58:12

    VAISEHonor to be here. Thank you.

  • 13:58:13

    NNAMDIVince Vaise is chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

The Politics Hour – September 21, 2018

Friday, Sep 21 2018New proposed legislation threatens some of the power D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser exercises over education in the District. Rep. Jamie Raskin is running for a second term in Congress, pledging to protect Maryland's air and federal workers. They both join us in studio.