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  • Writer's pictureBill Miller

5 Things You Didn't Know About The US National Anthem

Updated: Jan 4, 2020

Happy Independence Day to all my fine readers from the United States. It has been 241 years since we declared our independence from Great Britain, and in that time a lot has transpired, both good and bad.

One thing Americans of all different backgrounds come together for is our national anthem. Here are 5 things you probably didn't know about it!


1. The melody was taken from an old English drinking song.

Yup, you read that correctly. The tune comes from the old drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heav’n,” the official anthem of an 18th century London men’s social club called the Anacreontic Society. It later was used in American drinking circles (thanks to John Adams) long before it became a staple of the patriotic repertoire of the United States.

The practice of swapping out texts with little change to the music is called contrafactum. It has been around since the Middle Ages.

2. The United States didn't have an official National Anthem until 1931.

Seriously, we didn't. The Star Spangled Banner was only made our official anthem by Congressional Resolution in 1931, although it had been in use earlier than that. The Navy used it at formal functions as early as 1889, and President Wilson required its use during Presidential events during his term in office.

By students at the University of Illinois in the MUS243 Course. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3. "My Country Tis Of Thee" was the de facto national anthem for a period of time before 1931.

"My Country Tis Of Thee", more colloquially known as "America", was the de facto national anthem prior to the adoption of "The Star Spangled Banner". It shared this distinction with "Hail, Colombia".

It's worth noting that "America" has the same melody as "God Save the Queen". Yet another thing we share with the British!

4. The Star Spangled Banner has more than one stanza/verse.

It actually has four, even though the first is the only one actually performed nowadays. During the Civil War, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote the lyrics for a fifth verse in response to the political climate. This fifth verse didn't catch on, obviously.

5. US law outlines proper behavior and conduct for when the National Anthem is played.

36 U.S. Code § 301 stipulates that people in the armed forces in and out of uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note, whereas anyone else present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, removing their headdress (if applicable) with their right hand and holding it at the left shoulder.

As the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and by extension expression, Congress cannot mandate civilian conduct regarding the national anthem or prescribe penalties for not following established custom. That said, to not stand during the anthem is by and large a cultural taboo and may subject those who choose that course to heckling and harassment.


As an added bonus, here's a Minecraft Note Block arrangement of our National Anthem. Enjoy!

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