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Englishman wrote national anthem melody

'Banner' was once English drinking song

By Thom Patterson
CNN.com

story.fort.mhenry.jpg
American Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to "The Star Spangled Banner" while watching the British attack Fort McHenry in Maryland.
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John Stafford Smith
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Francis Scott Key

(CNN) -- The organist at St. Andrew's Church in Aysgarth, England, played the American national anthem on Sunday to mark the U.S. Independence Day, while not knowing that the "Star Spangled Banner's" music was composed by an Englishman, John Stafford Smith.

"I played it through before the service and afterwards as well," said church organist Richard Wilkinson. "It's a good tune."

Smith wrote the melody for a London social club he belonged to around 1780, called the Anacreontic Society. He titled his work, "Anacreon in Heaven," a drinking song in praise of wine.

Francis Scott Key -- known to many Americans -- put his lyrics to the tune, which he wrote after witnessing Maryland's Fort McHenry defend itself from British attack during the War of 1812.

Wilkinson, who's been pulling out all the stops as organist at the church for four years, said some members of the congregation recognized the tune. "They said they were very interested and amused that I'd played the 'Star Spangled Banner,' " Wilkinson said.

Back in the United States on Sunday, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Keith Freeman, 83, has formed the Society for the Recognition of John Stafford Smith because he "got a dirty deal out of the whole thing."

"I guess I have sympathy for the underdog and nobody's ever done anything for him, so I figured it was about time somebody did," said Freeman, who so far, is the only member of his organization.

A retired artist, Freeman says he plans to get the word out to newspapers and magazines in hopes that they will tell Smith's story and "give him the fame he deserves."

"You can check around and you find out that Francis Scott Key's got malls named after him, high schools, highways, all kinds of things referring to him," Freeman said. "The only thing that John Stafford Smith has is an American flag flying at the Gloucester Cathedral in England -- nothing in the United States."

The flag, a gift from the Rotary Club of New York, hangs near a memorial to Smith on the north wall of the nave, according to cathedral Dean, Nick Bury.

"He composed a bit, but not a tremendous lot I don't think," Bury said, explaining that Smith sang in the cathedral's choir as a boy while his father was organist there from 1740 to 1782.

"Apparently he became quite an able organist. And then he was what they call a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, a singer for one of the royal chapels," Bury said. "Finally, he was an organist at Chapel Royal for a bit."

Smith also was a regular choir singer at London's Westminster Cathedral.

According to Bury, "The Star Spangled Banner" has also been sung during church services at the cathedral memorializing victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks. "And for prominent Americans," Bury said.

According to the Library of Congress, the lyrics to Smith's song began with the first of six verses:

"To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full of glee,

A few sons of harmony sent a petition,

That he their inspirer and patron should be.

When this answer arrived, from that jolly old Grecian:

Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,

I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,

And besides I'll instruct you like me to entwine

The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' vine."

CNN.com's Pete Wilkinson contributed to this report.


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