One More Time: O Say, Can You...

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Worried that "Nuestro Himino", the new Spanish translation of "The Star Spangled Banner", will bring down the government, causing anarchy in the streets? Or prevent your children from getting that lettuce picking job you've always dreamed they'd have? Or irreversibly pollute the precious bodily fluids of real Americans? Fair enough. Here's what you do: go to the Library of Congress' website and print out the lyrics for "La bandera de las estrellas" , the 1919 Spanish translation of "The Star Spangled Banner".

sheet music

Then hand the lyrics out and encourage everyone to use that translation instead.

No need to worry if singing "La bandera de las estrellas" will have horrible consequences. The president was widely unpopular in 1919, but the Wilson administration was able to survive its publication. And despite the fact that the keepers of the public morality were hot on the scent of any manifestation of disloyalty that year– 1919 marked the beginning of the country's first nationwide Red Scare– no one suspected the song might be unpatriotic. Best of all, we know "La bandera de las estrellas" has no deleterious effect on the original song either, since 12 years after the translation appeared, "The Star Spangled Banner" was officially made the country's national anthem. (That's right, the United States got by without a national anthem until 1931.)

You'll notice on the sheet music, John Stafford Smith is given credit as the composer, not Francis Scott Key, who only gets the nod for the original lyrics. That's because Key, a lawyer, only wrote a poem titled "Defense of Fort M'Henry", the title of which was later altered to "The Star Spangled Banner". As for the music that brings everyone to their feet at the ballpark, it's from a bawdy little tune, "To Anacreon in Heaven", Smith wrote in mid-1760's for the Anacreontic Society, a club for heavy drinking amateur musicians in London. If you're interested in what the original lyrics of the song were, before the rockets glared red, you can find them here.

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