National Anthem FAQs

Q: Are there any rules about how we should act when the anthem is played?

  • A:Actually, there are. They're in the US Code, too.

In general, if the flag is on display - and it almost always is - you're supposed to stand straight, face the flag, and cover your heart with your right hand. Men are supposed to remove their hats - and it's nice when the women do, too - and place it over their hearts.

If the flag isn't being flown, the rules are the same except you face the direction where the music is playing.

If you're in the military, you don't remove your hat, and you salute the flag from the beginning to the end of the song.

Q: Has the Star Spangled Banner always been the US national anthem?

Q: Is there a day of recognition or celebration?

  • A:Yes! March 3 is National Anthem Day. Why? On March 3, 1931, the US Congress passed a resolution adopting the Star Spangled Banner as the official anthem of the US.

Q: What are the lyrics?

  • A:Even professional singers have trouble with the words sometimes. By the way, did you know there are four stanzas or verses? Here they are.

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' 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?

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Q: What's the National Anthem about?

The battle lasted through the night. Because of the fire and glare from the canons, Key was able to keep his eye on the US flag atop the Fort. That is, until the bombardment stopped during the night. In the morning, he and everyone else looked to the Fort to see if the British Jack had taken the place of the US flag.

When Key saw the "Stars and Stripes" still flying over the Fort, he began to write Defence of Fort McHenry, which later became the Star Spangled Banner.

By the way, you can see the same flag that inspired Key. It's on display at the National Museum of American History.

Q: When is the National Anthem played usually?

  • A:

    The Star Spangled Banner is played at all kinds of events. It's very common to hear it played:

    • Before the start of sporting events, from grade school baseball games to professional basketball games
    • When a US athlete wins a gold medal during the Olympic games
    • Before the age of 24/7 media, it almost always was played when television and radio stations went off the air each night. Some still play the Anthem at certain times of the day, like 12 noon or 12 midnight, though
    • On US military bases at the beginning and end of each day
    • At local festivals, fairs, or other community gatherings, especially during holidays like the Fourth of July

Q: Which name is right?

  • A:The term "national anthem" is a generic name for the song. The "Star Spangled Banner" is it's true name, however. It's common for people to use both or either name when talking about it.

Q: Who wrote the Star Spangled Banner?

  • A:
    Francis Scott Key wrote the song. Key was born in what is now the state of Maryland; he was a lawyer and an amateur poet. In fact, the song is based on a poem he wrote, "Defence of Fort McHenry."
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