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OFF the CUFF: Discovery of a Star-Spangled nightmare

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By Cheryl Duncan, Assistant Editor

Do you know the words to The National Anthem?

I’ll give you a hint: It starts with, “O! Say, can you see ...?”

Francis Scott Key’s poetic response to America’s victory at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 is officially known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was officially designated as our national anthem by congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.

In my youth, learning the lyrics to this iconic bit of history was akin to learning the Pledge of Allegiance.

I thought that was the case nationwide.

Apparently not. At least, not nowadays.

I first made this unsettling discovery when one of my younger colleagues made the confession — after an assignment in which a youth had confided the same thing.
GASP!

I was incredulous. How could that be? It’s as natural as breathing.

So I asked the young person nearest and dearest to me: my brilliant college student.

“Uh ...” she stammered.

“I can play it!” brightened my girl, the former Rockwood band saxophonist. “I never had to learn the words, though.”

That’s what she thought. Her immediate assignment: Learn them. This summer.

Other colleagues made similar disclosures.
“I can sing along with it when I hear it, but I don’t know the words.”
“I know the words, but I don’t know where they go in the song ...”
Maybe we shouldn’t have been so quick to judge Christina Aguilera for botching it at the 2011 Super Bowl.

So, my friends, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” this summer:

O! Say, can you see
By the dawn’s early light?
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming.

Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched
Were so gallantly streaming.

And the rockets’ red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through 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?
(And yes, folks, that was from memory.)

Of course, if an online movement comes to fruition, I may have to do some lyric learning of my own.

The movement, started on July 2 on the “We the People” petition site at WhiteHouse.gov, requests President Obama to change the national anthem to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” because, according to petition creator identified as E.D. of Redford, Mich., “It is what is best for this country.”

As of Monday afternoon, the petition had 432 signatures, falling 99,568 short of the required 100,000 needed by Aug. 1.

With all due respect to Miss Cyrus — she is, after all, a Tennessee native — I’m too old to be learning a song whose only words I know are the title.
• • •
Cheryl Duncan is assistant editor of the Roane County News and, apparently, one of the few staffers who could belt out “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Not that you’d want her to. But she could.