Most people know that Christina Aguilera fumbled the lyrics of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the last Super Bowl. To be fair, she’s not the only one. Cyndi Lauper, Michael Bolton and others have had lyrical snafus. Francis Scott Key penned the song on September 14, 1814; maybe in another 197 years, we’ll get those tricky words right. In the meantime, here are 10 things you – and Xtina, Cyndi and Michael – might not know about America’s national anthem.
1. One might assume that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was inspired by the American Revolution. In fact, it was written during the War of 1812, when U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces.
2. Francis Scott Key was a lawyer, sent to secure the release of a friend from a British ship in the Chesapeake Bay. He watched the British shelling of Fort McHenry from aboard a ship several miles away during the night of September 13-14, 1814—when he caught sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars.”
3. A gifted amateur poet, Francis Scott Key scribbled the initial verse of his song on the back of a letter.
4. Originally a poem entitled “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” was published in the Baltimore Patriot.
6. The first documented public performance of the words and music together took place at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore on October 19, 1814. A music store subsequently published the words and music under the title “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
7. Mary Pickersgill was commissioned by Major George Armistead to sew two flags for Fort McHenry. The one that became “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a 30-by-42–foot garrison flag; the other was a 17-by-25-foot storm flag for use in inclement weather. Pickersgill and her assistants spent about seven weeks making the two flags.
8. The original “Star-Spangled Banner” is housed in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
9. During the 19th century, “The Star-Spangled Banner” rose to popularity as a patriotic song. Yet, it wasn’t adopted as the U.S. national anthem until 1931.
10. The full name of F. Scott Fitzgerald, celebrated author of The Great Gatsby among other works, is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.
Karen Gross is the National Constitution Center’s Communications Writer/Editor and a singer-songwriter who also scribbles lyrics on random pieces of paper.