If you come from Baltimore, you might want to skip this chapter. Or at least keep an open mind.
It's become as much of a cliff-hanger as the main event: the pregame tension over whether the celebrity singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" will actually make it to "the land of the free" or skid off-course on a sour note. One opera star admitted preparing for such appearances the same way the ballplayers themselves got ready: "I warm up long in advance and do a lot of worrying and pacing back and forth."
How did this strain on our vocal chords become our official music? Why this "heaven-piercing abomination" (and that's one of the milder assessments) rather than something we like to sing?
The American hunger for a national anthem dates back to the Civil War. It was May 1861, one month after Confederate guns shelled Fort Sumter. "The whole country quivered with a new emotion," wrote the distinguished essayist Richard Grant White. Union loyalists ached for a way to express their "patriotic feeling in verse." There were plenty of likely contenders, but none had sufficiently stirred the national soul. The "Star‐ Spangled Banner," born out of an American victory in the War of 1812, was curtly dismissed by White and others as "useless" and "unfitted" for the current conflict. So a contest was held for a new one.
As one of thirteen prominent citizens named to the selection committee, White was openly doubtful of the project, reluctant to assume a role better left to time and custom. He apologized for their audacity, admitting that "under ordinary circumstances, such a call would