On July 4, 1776, our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. The Philadelphia document formalized the American rebellion against British rule. Next week the United States of America observes its 240th birthday. Independence Day celebrates over two centuries of freedom with parades, flags, picnics, and fireworks.
Many will also ATTEMPT to sing our National Anthem. Every school child knows the story behind The Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key was a gifted poet who found himself unexpectedly detained on a British frigate. He witnessed firsthand the English attack Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. After the night’s artillery bombardment, Key peered through the dawn’s early light to see the American flag still flying proudly.
Inspired by the sight, Key scribbled some notes on the back of an envelope. His musings evolved into a four stanza poem. On September 15, 1814, a Baltimore newspaper first published The Star Spangled Banner.
Ironically, Key suggested the poem be sung to a popular BRITISH tune entitled To Anacreon in Heaven. The melody was originally composed for a gentlemen’s music club in London. The song quickly became popular across America. However, Congress did not actually make The Star Spangled Banner our National Anthem until 1931.
Although our national anthem is inspiring, the tune is somewhat, uh, challenging to sing. Amateur and professional vocalists alike struggle to do the tune justice.
In recent years, some have suggested changing the National Anthem to America the Beautiful. It is a powerful hymn with moving imagery; AND it is much easier to sing!
Katherine Lee Bates wrote America the Beautiful in the nineteenth century. Dr. Bates, the daughter of a minister, became a professor of English Literature at Wellesley College. In 1893, she stopped in Chicago during a trip to Colorado Springs. Both the natural beauty of Colorado’s “fruited plains” and the “alabaster city” of the Chicago World Fair inspired her to write the well-known hymn.
Regardless of one’s national origin, all of God’s people can sing some of the lines together:
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.
May God thy gold refine,
till all success be nobleness,
and every gain divine.
On the Fourth of July, we pause to give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy. Our liberty is a precious gift dearly obtained. The star spangled banner still waves over America the beautiful. May God continue to bless our nation—land that we love.
Happy Independence Day!