Ep. 101 Transcription

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors. 

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. Today is June 29 and here in the U.S. we will be celebrating Independence Day, 4th of July, this weekend. So today we’re going to take a look at our national anthem, which will be played at many events this week. It’s also a part of most sporting events. We’ll be hearing it played this summer at the Olympics whenever an American wins the gold. But how much does the average American know about our song and how it came to be? Joining me today from Washington, D.C. is author and history consultant Tim Grove. Tim holds a graduate degree in history and an undergraduate degree in journalism. His career has included positions at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History, which is home to the Star Spangled Banner. Tim writes, History, nonfiction, and his most recent book is Star Spangled. The Story of a Flag A Battle in the American Anthem. Welcome to Enhance Life with Music. Tim.

Tim Grove: [00:01:13] Thank you, Mindy. It’s good to be here

Mindy Peterson: [00:01:15] Tim, there’s this entertaining collection of videos called People on the Street Videos where random people are asked questions about history or politics, like what does Congress do? You know, like tell us in your own words what you think Congress does. And it’s interesting, sometimes painful to listen to what a random sampling of people know or don’t know about some of these topics. I’m guessing it’s especially painful for someone like you to listen to is a historian and lives in Washington, D.C.. Yes. If there was a People on the Street video about our national anthem, what do you think are some of the most commonly known facts about the star spangled banners back story, how it came to be? What are some of the basic facts that most Americans do know?

Tim Grove: [00:02:01] I would say it’s pretty limited. I would say most Americans could probably link a man named Francis Scott Key with our national anthem. They know that he wrote it. They might not have the correct war. They might not know about what was going on. They might not know. I’m sure they don’t know who sewed the flag because so many people think it was Betsy Ross. So not a lot, I would say.

Mindy Peterson: [00:02:28] And when you say the flag, you’re talking about the flag that was flying when Francis Scott Key saw it and wrote the words to correct.

Tim Grove: [00:02:36] It gets a little confusing because it’s a song and a flag and the flight still exists in the collection of the Smithsonian. So it’s owned by the American people.

Mindy Peterson: [00:02:44] Well, let’s start with the words. What’s your guess? And the percentage of Americans who know all the words to. Well, the first stanza that we sing as our national anthem,

Tim Grove: [00:02:56] I would like to think that most do, but I think I would be wrong. So I would probably say between 15 and 40 percent of Americans know the words,

Mindy Peterson: [00:03:05] Oh, OK. I’m guessing those who are more active in attending sporting events are probably more likely to to know the words would be my guess, since it is played very consistently at sporting events. Yes. Well, tell us tell us about the lyrics and how the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner came to be written.

Tim Grove: [00:03:23] So one of the questions that historians, true history geeks, I would say, or purists, I guess we would say one question they have is, was Francis Scott Key writing lyrics or was he writing a poem because he did have a tune in mind? He’d actually written a song to that tune in the past. That’s really a minor point. But he was inspired to write this poem by watching a battle unfold before his eyes. He happened to be behind enemy lines. So it was the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 as part of the War of 1812, which is very confusing to start with. But the British were attacking Baltimore and Fort McHenry was the main defensive structure in Baltimore’s harbor. And so there was a major naval bombardment of the fort. And that’s what he was watching. The reason he was where he was is that shortly before this event, the British had attacked Washington, D.C. He lived in Georgetown, which was just outside of Washington, D.C. at the time. As those events unfolded, the British had captured someone who he knew, a friend of the family. His name was Dr. William Beings. He was a civilian. They captured him and took him as a prisoner. Beenz, his friends came to Key, who was a well-known lawyer and known for being very articulate.

Tim Grove: [00:04:48] He had already argued cases before the Supreme Court and they said, would you come along and get permission? You had to get permission from the president to approach the British and try to. Argue for being this release. They knew they had a very short amount of time, so he agreed to do that and he had to go with some military officials and they had to find the British fleet because they didn’t know where they were in the bay somewhere. So finally, they managed to find the main leadership, you know, the admiral, and he agreed to meet with them for military terms. And right away, they they had agreed to release him. He didn’t really have to argue his point because he had brought some letters that the British prisoners, the Americans had captured. They wrote some letters that he had taken along with them. So that kind of grease the wheels. So they agreed to release him. And so he thought they would be on their way then. But they had overheard plans for the attack in Baltimore. And so the British leadership said, no, no, you’re not leaving us until we end up finishing this attack. So he was stuck.

Mindy Peterson: [00:05:52] So he was stuck there until after the battle was done.

Tim Grove: [00:05:55] Correct. So he was forced to watch the British bombard Baltimore and was nervous. It was a battle that lasted from September 12 to 14. So it wasn’t just, oh, one quick afternoon. Correct.

Mindy Peterson: [00:06:08] Oh, wow. Well, I did not picture this last a couple of days. Is there a lot of confusion surrounding where he was and why he had this close up view? And the reason I ask is one impetus for this episode is last year, Fourth of July, I got an email from my state senator saying it was celebrating the Fourth of July and saying, you know, X number of years ago, Francis Scott Key woke up as a prisoner of war of the British and woke up to see the U.S. flag flying. And I won’t name my senator because I don’t want to embarrass him. But I remember reading that email thinking, oh, my goodness, why have I not heard this story? And so I looked it up and he wasn’t a prisoner of war. But is there some confusion about that story of where he was and why?

Tim Grove: [00:07:01] Well, historians have tried to pinpoint exactly where he was when he was on the water. And so where was he exactly? He would have been behind the ships that were firing the bombs. They have a pretty reasonable guess as to where he was.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:13] Have you heard that before? Some people saying that he was a prisoner of war when he. No, I

Tim Grove: [00:07:17] Haven’t.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:18] Ok.

Tim Grove: [00:07:19] So when he was a prisoner, he couldn’t leave, so.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:22] Well, I guess. Yeah, I guess technically maybe you could say he was a prisoner of war. Well, so he he wrote the lyrics as he has this up close look at the action of this battle over the course of a couple of days, wrote the words at the end of the battle, and it was originally written as a poem.

Tim Grove: [00:07:40] So actually, he just started scribbling on an envelope that was in his pocket. So he really didn’t write the whole poem, which is four stanzas. It’s not only one that we sing, but that he just started that when he saw the flag, seeing the flag, that it was still an American flag. And the British didn’t take the fort at the beginning of the morning. That’s what was the moment of inspiration for him. He remained a prisoner about a day more or two days, and then he was freed and then he went to a hotel in Baltimore. And that night he started writing the four stanzas. He couldn’t get it out of his head. He just you know, he was an inspired poet at that point.

Mindy Peterson: [00:08:19] Tell us about the music that the poem was set to and how that match was made between the lyrics and the music.

Tim Grove: [00:08:24] So the tune is called To Anacreon in Heaven. And one misconception is some people think it was a bar song, and that’s really not quite accurate. The Anachronistic Society was a gentleman’s club in London and the tune originated in about 1775. It was written by a man who was organist and a soloist at Gloucester Cathedral in England. And if you go there, I just happened to be there about two years ago and was surprised to see American flag in the cathedral. And I thought, oh, it must be a World War Two memorial or something. But no, it was a memorial to John Stafford Smith, who was from that congregation who wrote the tune to the American national anthem.

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:09] Oh, interesting.

Tim Grove: [00:09:10] Anyway, so the Democratic Society was a gentleman’s club in London. It was named for the sixth century Greek poet and Akron, and they met in the Strand. And their meetings often included a concert by some of the best performers in London. Their meetings often had a concert and then they would have supper and then they would sing songs. And the first song of the evening they always sang was this song to Knock Down and Heaven. It was kind of the club song.

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:37] So at the time in the U.S., was this tune just a well-known tune, sort of like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star is for us now.

Tim Grove: [00:09:46] So at the time there, about eighty five songs already to that tune in the U.S., the most popular political song of the day was called Adams and Liberty, and that was to that tune. So it was a very popular tune.

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:59] Ok, that’s. Ironic to me that these songs about Liberty and our national anthem were set to tunes that were written by the British who we were fighting against at the time,

Tim Grove: [00:10:10] You know, who knows if most Americans even knew the tune had originated in Britain.

Mindy Peterson: [00:10:14] Huh. Interesting. Tell us how the U.S. flag and the song came to be called The Star-Spangled Banner, because that was not an original title that he gave to his poem or song, is that right?

Tim Grove: [00:10:26] Yes. His poem was first published in Baltimore as the defense of Fort McHenry. That was the title. And I might be wrong about this, but I think a music publisher, when it was first published as a music piece, called it The Star-Spangled Banner

Mindy Peterson: [00:10:40] And it just stuck. Right. OK, and at that point, did the flag did the U.S. flag already have that nickname?

Tim Grove: [00:10:47] That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think so, but I’m not sure.

Mindy Peterson: [00:10:50] And the actual flag that inspired Kei’s had how many Stars and stripes at the time.

Tim Grove: [00:10:56] It had 15 stars and 15 stripes. And the plan was to add a stripe and a star for every new state. However, they quickly realized that it would get way too long or the stripes would get too narrow if you kept adding stripes. So they came up with keeping the 13 stripes from the original colonies and just adding a star.

Mindy Peterson: [00:11:14] Tell us about how this song officially became our national anthem or when it did so.

Tim Grove: [00:11:21] In nineteen thirty one, it finally became the national anthem when Herbert Hoover President Herbert Hoover signed the bill into law. But it had been very popular even in his lifetime. It was a popular patriotic song and it became the kind of the unofficial anthem of the North during the Civil War. And I would say by the 1890 south, the Army and the Navy, which had started using it for military ceremonies, kind of their official national anthem, because there was no official national anthem. The first documented performance at a sporting event was 1918, which was the first game of the World Series that year, which was held in Chicago. And then by 1942, it was a regular feature of baseball games.

Mindy Peterson: [00:12:02] It’s really interesting to me that we did not have an official national anthem until 1931.

Tim Grove: [00:12:07] Yeah, yes.

Mindy Peterson: [00:12:08] Yeah, that’s kind of crazy. And around that time, there were many other patriotic songs that were available to choose from as there. We still have other patriotic songs like America The Beautiful, My Country Tis of Thee. What do you think made this song, The Star-Spangled Banner, so popular that it was chosen as the national anthem?

Tim Grove: [00:12:30] I don’t know. I haven’t done a lot of research into that, but I would say that it was already in use strongly by the military. And so it had already become kind of popular as a national anthem, of course, the national anthem.

Mindy Peterson: [00:12:45] Kind of interesting because it’s really a story. The words are telling a story. You’d think that the national anthem would be more about a prayer for blessings for the country or our leaders or proclamation of our values of freedom and independence and courage. And so,

Tim Grove: [00:13:03] Yeah, it’s I would say it’s very unique among the national anthems of the world in that it doesn’t talk about the virtues of the citizens of a country or pray for the health of the monarch like Britain’s does. Yeah, it’s about a historic event.

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:18] If you had to pick a national anthem, do you think you would have picked The Star-Spangled Banner?

Tim Grove: [00:13:22] I like The Star-Spangled Banner a lot because I’m a history person. I like that it tells the story. Of course, there are various objections to it. It’s too militaristic. It is about a battle. It’s racist. There’s that objection as well. That objection is relates to other verses, not the verse that we sing as the national anthem. OK, and of course, it’s very important to point out that Francis Scott Key was a slave owner his whole life. So he’s the man who wrote The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. But he did enslave people. He did free several slaves, at least seven throughout his life. He had a very interesting relationship with people of African heritage. He was opposed to the slave trade. So he’s a very complex character for sure.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:07] Yeah, well, it seems like there’s a lot of leaders from that time period who fit into that category where they may have spoken out against some of the abusive treatment of slaves, but they still had slaves. Right? Well, you said that The Star-Spangled Banner was first played in a sporting event in 1918. When did it and how did it become a regular fixture at sporting events being played before sporting events?

Tim Grove: [00:14:36] You know, I don’t know that it’s OK.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:39] When I think about The Star-Spangled Banner, there’s certain moments that come to my mind where it really struck a chord with me and were just momentous, touching moments. I guess I would say one of there is a store, Gander Mountain, near us. It’s not there anymore. But they had the biggest flag. I’ve ever seen flying outside their store, and I think just whenever I see a flag that’s enormous in size, it just has this magnificence and majesty to it that it really catches your breath and catches your attention and really evokes the sense of patriotism and pride in our country. And so that’s one moment that comes to my mind. And another moment that comes to mind is when I was out of the country for about a week and a half and I came back, I had been in Europe, so I had been in many different small countries. A lot of them were German speaking or a language that I had no clue what they were saying. I know some Spanish. So the Spanish, Italian, you know, I could kind of get by with that. But the German not not a chance. I had a wonderful time and didn’t really expect this response of when I came back to the U.S. and landed and got off the plane into the airport and saw that U.S. flag. I really had the sort of emotional response, like, I’m home. And I it was the first time I remember having, like, this feeling of affection for what they call American soil. You know, it’s like you hear that term. I don’t really think that much of it. But when I got off that plane, I remember thinking I’m back on American soil and just had that feeling of resonance for me. And a touching moment. Can you think of any moments that you can relate to or you experience that when you saw the U.S. flag, saw The Star-Spangled Banner?

Tim Grove: [00:16:37] Well, I was very fortunate to work, like you mentioned, at the National Museum of American History. And while I was there, The Star-Spangled Banner was undergoing a huge multi, multimillion dollar conservation project to protect it for the future. I was fortunate to get to go up very close to it within about a foot of it so I could see how threadbare it truly is. But the power of the object is just truly, truly incredible. Hmm. I should say that most Americans don’t realize how big the original flag was, and it was 30 by 42 feet. So that’s about a quarter of the size of modern basketball court.

Mindy Peterson: [00:17:15] That is big. And when you say the original flag, you’re talking about the one that inspired Francis Scott Key, the one that was crying during that battle. Right.

Tim Grove: [00:17:23] And the other thing I should point out is that the woman who sewed the flag, her name is Mary Pickersgill, and her home is actually a historic site that you can visit in Baltimore. It’s preserved. And she was commissioned the year before and 1813 to sew two flags for Fort McHenry. One, the one I mentioned was the garrison flag. And there was also a smaller one called the storm flag, which would be flown in poor weather.

Mindy Peterson: [00:17:49] Well, one thing that I will have to admit I learned when I was preparing for this interview is if you would have asked me one of those people on the street, questions about the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song, I would have guessed it was during the Revolutionary War. And so, I mean, I have to admit, I forgot that it was the War of 1812 and interesting that it actually happened in 1814. So I hope that that’s one thing that I remember from this conversation is, is the war that inspired our national anthem. Are there any other particularly interesting Star-Spangled Banner trivia pieces that listeners may be interested knowing or that you would like people to know?

Tim Grove: [00:18:32] Well, it’s fun to know that the stars were about a foot from tip to tip. The stripes were about a foot tall as well. So that was a lot of material that Mary Pickersgill had to come up with and a war was going on. So it was not that easy to get the material. Good point. Most interesting thing that I learned, I would say during this, what I tried to do with the book is to provide a broader context for the story, which most people don’t know. And so I tried to include women’s history. Mary Pickersgill was a 19th century American businesswoman, very savvy businesswoman. I also tried to include African-American history. And one story that I did not know before I started research for the book was the Colonial Marines. The Colonial Marines were a group of former slaves that were recruited by the British to fight for the British. So they actually trained at a base on an island in the Chesapeake Bay that the British occupied called Tangier Island. And they were involved in several battles during the Chesapeake campaign. They were involved with the attack on Washington. They were also involved in the battle of Baltimore. So that’s a very interesting story.

Mindy Peterson: [00:19:42] Yeah, I love that you included that context in your book. I will definitely have a link in the show. Notes to your book. Tell us a real quick about your next book. Is that due out next spring?

Tim Grove: [00:19:52] Yes, it’s due out next spring. And I’m staying with the military history theme and I’m going to tell the story of. The siege of Yorktown, which, of course, was the last major battle in the American Revolution, and the angle that I’m taking is I’m including a character that it’s a story that most people don’t know. And he was an enslaved man who was a spy for General Lafayette Marchetti’s Lafayette, mostly during Yorktown. And so his story hasn’t really been told much before. And so there’s not a lot of primary source materials, but I found enough that I could include him as one of the major characters in the book. It’s a fascinating story.

Mindy Peterson: [00:20:33] It sounds like it.

Tim Grove: [00:20:34] He ended up actually taking Lafayette’s name when he became free, when he earned his freedom. He took the last the surname Lafayette. So his name is James Lafayette.

Mindy Peterson: [00:20:44] Oh, fascinating. Well, thank you so much for giving us all this backstory information on our national anthem. I know I will have a lot more context and appreciation for what I’m singing and hearing the next time I sing or hear our national anthem. And it’s it’s great to have this context with our Independence Day Fourth of July holiday this week.

Tim Grove: [00:21:07] Yes, you’re welcome.

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:08] I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Do you have a song or a story that you can share with us in closing today?

Tim Grove: [00:21:22] I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. for a long time and one of the wonderful things about the area is Fourth of July and the millions of people that flock here. I have fond memories of going to the concert, the Fourth of July concert on the West Lawn of the US Capitol done by the National Symphony choirs. And they always bring in guest singers, well-known performers from around the country in different genres of music. And there’s always a different version of The Star-Spangled Banner. And it’s fun to see each year what that performers take on the national anthem is, oh,

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:57] I bet any performers that especially stand out in your memory.

Tim Grove: [00:22:01] One was gospel singer Sandy Patty, which she became famous when a recording of her singing The Star-Spangled Banner was played on national television at the end of the Statue of Liberty anniversary weekend.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:16] So what year was that?

Tim Grove: [00:22:18] I can’t remember. But that shot her to fame because people were so impressed with her version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:25] So. And then what? Like the 80s?

Tim Grove: [00:22:28] I think it was, yeah. Reagan was president. So I think it was my guess would be 1986 or seven. But that version is so interesting because she goes very high. She’s known for going very high in housing and it has a bridge of other music, more contemporary words in the middle of it. So it’s just interesting.

Transcribed by Sonix.ai