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When Freedom Sings: Time for a New National Anthem

Follow Me on Twitter     Message Meryl Ann Butler
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War, peace, freedom, and who the hell can sing the Star Bangled Banner, anyway?


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Generally, I simply delete the hostile emails forwarded to me by bigots, homophobes, and fundamentalists, but occasionally they provoke my pen. Like this one, about the national anthem:

 

It is Time for America to SPEAK UP! After hearing they want to sing the National Anthem in Spanish - enough is enough! Nowhere did they sing it in Italian, Polish, Irish (Celtic), German or any other language because of immigration. It was written by Francis Scott Key and should be sung word for word the way it was written. NOT sorry if this offends anyone because this is MY COUNTRY - IF IT IS YOUR COUNTRY SPEAK UP. 
I am not against immigration -- just come through like everyone else … AND LEARN THE LANGUAGE as all other immigrants have in the past -- and GOD BLESS AMERICA! If you don't want to forward this for fear of offending someone -- YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM!


 

 

OK, I’m American, and I’m speaking up! I come from a family of immigrants. Most immigrated a couple hundred years ago, but some have been here longer than that. I’m not sure how long, but they likely took the Siberian route.

 

And I’m speaking up! I live in Southern California, and I am becoming multilingual just by reading billboards. I’m not paying $85 a credit for it, either, like I did when I studied French and Russian. I’m getting a free education in a foreign language. Damn, this is a great country.

 

I’m speaking up! Our national anthem is filled with war imagery, and I’d prefer to intone something a little more uplifting. We had to sing The Star Spangled Banner in grade school. But I stopped by the time I was 14, because I gave some thought to what the lyrics meant, and I didn't want to worship war with my words.

 

That sender of the email is upset that these lyrics about bombs and war might be sung in a language other than English. But the way I figure it, the less people that understand the words, the better. I say, let’s make them sing it in Farsi or something, then even fewer people will get the bloody meaning.

 

THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER

Oh, say can you see,


By the dawn's early light,


What so proudly we hailed 


At the twilight's last gleaming,


Whose broad stripes and bright stars, 


Through the perilous fight,


O'er the ramparts we watched


Were so gallantly streaming?


And the rockets' red glare, 


The bombs bursting in air,


Gave proof through the night


That our flag was still there.


O, say, does that 
Star-Spangled

Banner yet wave,


O'er the land of the free,


And the home of the brave?

 

 

Perhaps it’s time for a new national anthem, one that focuses on what we really want for our country. What we sing about, we bring about. Is The Star Spangled Banner’s war imagery what we want more of? Not to mention the fact that few voices can actually carry that one-and-a-half octave tune—what were they thinking when they chose this melody? If they could have heard Roseanne Barr’s rendition coming, they might have reconsidered, and saved us all alot of strained vocal chords.

 

If we are going to sing about a flag, how about George Cohan’s foot stompin’, eminently singable, You’re a Grand Old Flag? And there’s no blood and guts involved: “You're a high flying flag, and forever in peace may you wave. You're the emblem of the land I love, the home of the free and the brave.”

 


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Frances Scott Key’s original title for the poem he wrote in 1814 was Defence of Fort McHenry (sic). He did not write it as a national anthem, but simply as a record of his experiences, watching the battle. Later, the title was changed to The Star Spangled Banner and it was set to the tune of The Anacreontic Song, a well-known, bawdy English drinking song.

 

It was only a little over 75 years ago (1931) that The Star Spangled Banner was selected as the "official" national anthem, 116 years after it had been written. And the tune isn’t even American, it is the music of the country we mounted a revolution against!

 

During the course of American history, several different songs have been used as a national anthem, before any official proclamation was made. These include Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, (apparently, a rewrite of a well known British tune entitled, Red, White, and Blue) and Hail, Columbia.

 


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Hail, Columbia was written for George Washington's inauguration, and was used as the national anthem for most of the 19th Century—longer than The Star Spangled Banner has been the official national anthem. Hail, Columbia is now used as the entrance march for the Vice President, much as Hail to the Chief is used for the President.

 


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Columbia was an early poetic name for America, and popularly appeared in multitudes of political cartoons as the feminine personification of the country, though she has been rarely seen since the 1920’s. The root of the word, Columbia, is Latin for peace, or dove. The columbine flower got its name from the arrangement of its petals, which look like flying doves.

 

Ironically, these tunes that hail the peaceful Columbia, are war songs. And The Star Spangled Banner is the most offensive of the three. At least Hail, Columbia calls America a "happy land,” and glorifies peace, safety, and freedom.

 

My Country ‘Tis of Thee was widely regarded as the national anthem throughout the late 1800's. It was written to the tune of another British song, the national anthem of Great Britain, God Save the King. The lyrics for My Country ‘Tis of Thee were written by Samuel Frances Smith, in 1831, when he was a 22-year-old seminary student. And it is filled with love for country, inspiration from nature, liberty and freedom—and there are no ramparts or glaring red rockets to disturb the peace.

 

America the Beautiful has been a well-loved, albeit, unofficial, anthem for our country, and there’s nary an airborne bomb bursting in the entire song. ABCNEWS correspondent and author of America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation’s Favorite Song, Lynn Sherr, says the song is, “simple, I think it’s emotional, and I think it talks about a country a land, and its people—not just about a flag, not just about a battle. It doesn’t talk about conquest, it talks about the possibilities of this nation.”

 


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That poem was written by Katherine Lee Bates, 33, as she traveled from Massachusetts to Colorado for a summer teaching job in 1895, and was set to music later. Her train chugged through the Kansas wheat fields on the Fourth of July, inspiring her words.

 

However, if I were to think outside the box—which is generally, the place in which I am most comfortable thinking, anyway—I would choose Philadelphia Freedom as my national anthem, that eye-zapping whippoorwill of freedom, notwithstanding. The song’s happy and upbeat celebration of freedom and all the things that make America good is inspiring and refreshing. It’s got flag wavin’, it’s got light shinin’, it’s got the good ol’ family home. And anyone can sing it. Hell, you can even dance to it.

 

Philadelphia Freedom, I love you, yes I do!

 

It’s a celebratory song illuminated by the shining light of freedom, and wouldn’t that be a welcome focus for this country? As a new national anthem, it would be music to my ears.

 

It’s unlikely that any Congress would replace our combative national anthem with a pop music tune sung by a flaming Brit. Still, it’s my first choice, and I’m stickin’ to it.

 

P.S. – And God bless America, and EVERYBODY ELSE! (No exceptions.)

 


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LYRICS:

 

 

PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM by Bernie Taupin

 

I used to be a rolling stone

You know if the cause was right

I'd leave to find the answer on the road

I used to be a heart beating for someone

But the times have changed

The less I say the more my work gets done

 

'Cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom

From the day that I was born I've waved the flag

Philadelphia freedom took me knee-high to a man

Yeah gave me peace of mind my daddy never had

 

Oh Philadelphia freedom shine on me, I love you

Shine a light through the eyes of the ones left behind

Shine a light shine a light

Shine a light won't you shine a light

Philadelphia freedom I love you, yes I do

 

If you choose to you can live your life alone

Some people choose the city

Some others choose the good old family home

I like living easy without family ties

Till the whippoorwill of freedom zapped me

Right between the eyes.

 

 

MY COUNTRY, 'TIS OF THEE by Rev. Samuel Frances Smith

 

My country, 'tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrims' pride,

From every mountainside let freedom ring!

 

My native country, thee,

Land of the noble free, thy name I love;

I love thy rocks and rills,

Thy woods and templed hills;

My heart with rapture thrills, like that above.

 

Let music swell the breeze,

And ring from all the trees sweet freedom's song;

Let mortal tongues awake;

Let all that breathe partake;

Let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.

 

Our fathers' God, to thee,

Author of liberty, to thee we sing;

Long may our land be bright

With freedom's holy light;

Protect us by thy might, great God, our King.

 

YOU’RE A GRAND OLD FLAG by George M. Cohan

 

You're a grand old flag,

You're a high flying flag

And forever in peace may you wave.

You're the emblem of

The land I love.

The home of the free and the brave.

 

Ev'ry heart beats true

'neath the Red, White and Blue,

Where there's never a boast or brag.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

 

 

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL by Katherine Lee Bates

 

O beautiful, for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful, for pilgrim feet

Whose stern, impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw;

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!

O beautiful, for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved

And mercy more than life!

America! America! May God thy gold refine,

'Til all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine!

O beautiful, for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years,

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!

 

 

HAIL, COLUMBIA by Philip Phile

 

Hail Columbia, happy land!

Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,

Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,

Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,

And when the storm of war was gone

Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.

Let independence be our boast,

Ever mindful what it cost;

Ever grateful for the prize,

Let its altar reach the skies.

Chorus

Firm, united let us be,

Rallying round our liberty,

As a band of brothers joined,

Peace and safety we shall find.

Immortal patriots, rise once more,

Defend your rights, defend your shore!

Let no rude foe, with impious hand,

Let no rude foe, with impious hand,

Invade the shrine where sacred lies

Of toil and blood, the well-earned prize,

While off'ring peace, sincere and just,

In Heaven's we place a manly trust,

That truth and justice will prevail,

And every scheme of bondage fail.

Chorus

Firm, united let us be,

Rallying round our liberty,

As a band of brothers joined,

Peace and safety we shall find.

Behold the chief who now commands,

Once more to serve his country stands.

The rock on which the storm will break,

The rock on which the storm will break,

But armed in virtue, firm, and true,

His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.

When hope was sinking in dismay,

When glooms obscured Columbia's day,

His steady mind, from changes free,

Resolved on death or liberty.

Chorus

Firm, united let us be,

Rallying round our liberty,

As a band of brothers joined,

Peace and safety we shall find.

Sound, sound the trump of fame,

Let Washington's great fame

Ring through the world with loud applause,

Ring through the world with loud applause,

Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,

Listen with a joyful ear,

With equal skill, with God-like pow'r

He governs in the fearful hour

Of horrid war, or guides with ease

The happier time of honest peace.

Chorus

Firm, united let us be,

Rallying round our liberty,

As a band of brothers joined,

Peace and safety we shall find.

 

 

COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN by T. Becket & D. Shaw

 

O Columbia! the gem of the ocean,

The home of the brave and the free,

The shrine of each patriot's devotion,

A world offers homage to thee;

Thy mandates make heroes assemble,

When Liberty's form stands in view;

Thy banners make tyranny tremble,

When borne by the red, white, and blue,

When borne by the red, white, and blue,

When borne by the red, white, and blue,

Thy banners make tyranny tremble,

When borne by the red, white and blue.

 

When war wing'd its wide desolation,

And threaten'd the land to deform,'

The ark then of freedom's foundation,

Columbia rode safe thro' the storm;

With her garlands of vict'ry around her,

When so proudly she bore her brave crew;

With her flag proudly floating before her,

The boast of the red, white and blue,

The boast of the red, white and blue,

The boast of the red, white, and blue,

With her flag proudly floating before her,

The boast of the red, white and blue.

 

The Union, the Union forever,

Our glorious nation's sweet hymn,

May the wreaths it has won never wither,

Nor the stars of its glory grow dim,

May the service united ne'er sever,

But they to their colors prove true?

The Army and Navy forever,

Three cheers for the red, white, and blue,

Three cheers for the red, white, and blue,

Three cheers for the red, white, and blue,

The Army and Navy for ever,

Three cheers for the red, white and blue.

 

REFERENCES

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star-Spangled_Banner

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Anacreon_in_Heaven

http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=124012&page=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Francis_Smith

http://musicappreciation.suite101.com/article.cfm/patriotic_american_anthems

http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/lyrics/grandold.htm

http://www.s2smagazine.com/services/Board/archive/index.php?t-68986.html

A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor

The Lay of the Land: Metaphor As Experience and History in American Life and Letters by Annette Kolodny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)
 

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