By Ernest Kearney  —  The Star-Spangled Banner has had a rather checkered history.  As most readers will remember from high school history classes – that is if they stayed awake – the lyrics of our national anthem were based on a poem, Defence of Fort M’Henry written by a 35-year-old lawyer, Francis Scott Key, as he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812.

The music was supplied by a popular British drinking ditty of the time To Anacreon in Heaven. Composed by John Stafford Smith, the tune was originally written in honor of the ancient Ionian poet Anacreon whose works celebrated good friends, good wine and complained of reluctant virgins and the compliance of young boys with long eyelashes (Oh those Greeks!)

You can listen to this original source of the music HERE

Renamed The Star-Spangled Banner, it was first used as the official song of the U.S. Navy in 1889 and was a favorite of President Woodrow Wilson who brought it to a wider audience during his administration. 

A congressional resolution made it our national anthem in 1931 during Herbert Hoover’s presidency.

The song which now precedes every baseball game is actually three verses shorter than the original and sung at a much slower tempo than was intended and even for the very best singer poses a melodic challenge.  Nor is it an altogether pleasing piece of music.

In his It All Started With Columbus, historical-humorist Richard Amour wrote:

In an attempt to take Baltimore, the British attacked Fort McHenry, which protected the harbor. Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Off Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, and when, by the dawn’s early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror.

(Well let’s at least be thankful we’re not stuck with the national anthem of Greece which has 158 stanzas.)

But honestly, after the last four brutal years and the bitterest election this nation has endured since the onset of the civil war I myself am exhausted and even speechless (a rare condition for me indeed.)  However when one finds themselves speechless thank the gods for music; and while our current national anthem seems out of step with the times, there are two songs I feel capture the zeitgeist of our national crucible both “ante,” and “post” election.

The first is a song from the exalted Greg Brown, an artist whose talents deserve far more consideration than the music-loving public has given him. HERE’S the video on YouTube.

For my post nomination let me put forward a tune by the silken throated Irish balladeer Jack Lukeman, (the former Jack L.) the performance of which never fails to bring a lump to my throat. Experience YouTube video HERE.



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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at and Follow him on Facebook.

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