Commentary: The Star Studded Banner

Jul 9, 2010

Murray, KY – If you went to the county fair, or almost any other event last Fourth of July, you probably heard at least one rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. Commentator Robert Valentine says he loves America's anthem as much as anyone here in the Land of the Free, but he does take umbrage when singers needlessly dress it up on the stage.

It's summer. In our part of the country, that means backyard barbeques, swimming, quiet lazy afternoons in the hammock, pleasant nights on the porch, in the swing, on the patio, or in the boat. It means fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers galore, and the Fourth of July.

Which reminds me: it also means NBA Playoffs, thousands of baseball games, thousands of soccer games, county fairs, stock car races, and the Triple Crown, among other things. At all of these events - including every five minutes during the Fourth of July holiday, we will sing the American National Anthem, or hear it sung to us.

It could be a long, long summer.

Now, don't misunderstand: as critical as many musicians may be of the Star Spangled Banner, I am a big fan. I know it's hard to sing; I know we overuse it throughout the year. Still, it's a great song, and at the risk of sounding as biased as I am, I think it's one of the best in the world. It stirs the blood and makes you proud to be from the land of the free and home of the brave. I like "O, Canada," too, and the South Koreans have a dandy anthem as well.

But I bristle a little bit when some star or wanna-be star is called upon (as if they didn't lobby for it) to render the national anthem in public. Half the time, they don't take the time to dress up for the honor of singing our anthem in front of other Americans and, in the case of big sporting events, much of the rest of the world. And, these days, they spend more time hunting for a flashy note than singing the song as written.

Note to country and R&B stars: it was a "perilous fight," not a "Pear-Oh-lus Fat." Try harder. Look at the lyrics, at least once. It's the "land of the free," not the "lay-unduh of the free-ee-ee." Attention, Big Stars and all your little imitators: it's our national anthem. As accustomed as you are to being the center of attention, you could take a break for approximately one minute and ten seconds, and let our song be the focus of your attention and that of everyone around you. If you really love this country, sing the song so we can sing along. We're Americans, too, you know.

If you want a model, watch the Kentucky Derby. The band plays "My Old Kentucky Home," and 160,000 Kentuckians sing the song in unison. They know the words; they just need a downbeat. A few weeks later, we get the Preakness Stakes, and then the Belmont, and the band plays "Daisy, Daisy," or "O, Christmas Tree," or something like that, and no one sings. There is only one "My Old Kentucky Home," and we sing it.

There's only one Star Spangled Banner. Although not as old as the Declaration of Independence, the Capital Building or the Banner itself, it's as deep a part of America as any of those things. Each of us can share in it just by trying to carry a tune. Help us, won't you? Where the Banner is concerned, the real stars are on the flag - not on the stage.

Robert Valentine is a professional Speaker, Storyteller, and Senior Lecturer at Murray State University in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. If you have an opinion or review you'd like to share with WKMS listeners, visit the commentaries page on our web site.