Today an anthem became official.
We Americans used to sing a variety of patriotic songs in honor of our country. Hail Columbia was one, originally composed for George Washington’s inauguration and called The President’s March. Columbia is a faux mythological name for America, giving a feminine personification to the “Land of Columbus,” and it got popular in the late 1700s; New York’s King’s College was renamed after her, along with various cities and battleships (and, more recently, one of the space shuttles). It’s now the official walking music for the Vice President, played like Hail to the Chief is for the President. My Country, ‘Tis of Thee was another one. Its melody is identical to the British national anthem, God Save the Queen (or King, as the gender may be at the time), which itself dates back to 1619. Interestingly, there’s no definitive version of God Save the Queen, nor any formal recognition of it as being official.
The U.S. formalized The Star Spangled Banner as its national anthem by congressional resolution on this day in 1933. Sung as a patriotic song for over a hundred years, it had been written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key after watching the British bomb the heck out of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Its melody was borrowed from To Anacreon in Heaven, the official song of a London gentleman’s club made up of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals who got together to drink and enjoy music (their patron saint was the 6th century BCE Greek poet Anacreon). Its notoriously difficult melody and such memorable lines as “And long may the sons of Anacreon intwine the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine” made it the perfect sobriety test; if you could sing it, you were ready for another round. Key’s lyrics included the line “In God is our Trust” in its rarely-sung 4th stanza, which is where the U.S. got its national motto in 1956.
The song might officially belong to the U.S., but its melodies belong to history.