Many will immediately say: “Francis Scott Key.” If this were a history test, and I’m glad it’s not, they’d get no better than a “C-” for that answer. Here’s why.
Key wrote the words, but not the music to our national anthem. The music was written by John Stafford Smith, ironically, a British composer. The original song had different words and was written for a London social club. Surprisingly, the melody, though difficult to sing, became widely popular. As many as eighty different sets of lyrics were written to the same music. Some are naughty, and some are out and out bawdy!
One clean and patriotic version was used as a political campaign song in 1796, for the election of John Adams, the second president of the United States. Thus, the musical refrain was well-known throughout the colonies at that time.
Francis Scott Key, a young Washington lawyer, was assigned to negotiate the release of an American doctor captured by the British. During the discussions, held aboard a British warship, Key was unexpectedly forced to stay on board during a shelling of Fort McHenry, near the city of Baltimore. Watching the bombardment by the light of the exploding artillery shells and rockets, he saw the American flag continue to wave, through the night, through the “perilous fight” until dawn, proving that the fort had not been captured.
Inspired, Key wrote a poem entitled “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” Only later was the poem set to music, and the name changed to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” So now you know that there were two who wrote our national anthem: Francis Scott Key and John Stafford Smith.
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