Magazine article America in WWII

An Anthem Comes of Age

Magazine article America in WWII

An Anthem Comes of Age

Article excerpt

OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM holds a special place in our corner of the mythical universe, just as the Mississippi River and the Declaration of Independence do. But it wasn't always so. At the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, "The Star-Spangled Banner" had been our official anthem for only a decade. It had taken more than a century for the patriotic paean that Francis Scott Key conceived in view of Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 to earn the lofty status that in 21st-century hindsight might seem to have been bestowed by our Creator.

Americans certainly knew "The Star-Spangled Banner" long before it received the federal government's ultimate seal of approval. The US Navy had made the song its official flag-raising accompaniment back in 1889, and President Woodrow Wilson ordered it played for military gatherings and special occasions. It was also sometimes played before professional baseball games. But it was only during World War II that the anthem became as much a part of American tradition as baseball itself and the mustard-slathered hot dogs that barking vendors peddled to the faithful who filled the bleachers.

That other great American pastime, the movies, started its own anthem-playing tradition during the war. On a typical visit to the theater, movie-goers watched footage of war-related patriotic imagery that accompanied a soundtrack of the anthem. The two most popular renditions of the day were a choral offering by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians and an operatic treatment by the baritone who referred to himself by the almost anagrammatic pseudonym Merrill Miller. …

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