The Man Behind the Music to the Star Spangled Banner

When we think of our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, the first person who comes to mind is usually Francis Scott Key. The lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner were taken from a poem written by Key entitled, “Defense of Fort McHenry.” We rarely, however, talk about John Stafford Smith, the man who was responsible for writing the music to the anthem.

Smith was a British composer and organist and has also been referred to as the first English musicologist. He was an avid collector of rare manuscripts and was one of the first serious collectors of manuscripts written by J.S. Bach.

 The melody from the Star Spangled Banner was actually from a song that was originally written by Smith in 1775 for the Anacreontic Society of London, a prominent men’s social club of that time. The tune was entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven” and contained different lyrics at that time. Francis Scott Key originally chose the tune to accompany a poem he had written in 1805 called “When the Warrior Returns from the Battle Afar.” He later adapted the melody to his poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” which he had been inspired to write while watching the attack on Fort Henry by a British Fleet in 1914.  The new adaptation, entitled the Star Spangled Banner, became the official national anthem of America on March 3rd, 1931.


Christine Suter
Christine Suter

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