Oh, Say Can You Sing ... the National Anthem?

ByABC News
May 8, 2006, 4:25 PM

May 8, 2006 — -- "The Star Spangled Banner" -- our national anthem -- is under attack. Or so you would think by the rush to defend it on Capitol Hill last week.

As millions marched for immigration rights, the U.S. Senate introduced a resolution to ensure that the national anthem would be sung only in English. A day later a similar measure was introduced in the House of Representatives.

The latest assault on the English-only anthem was launched last month -- with less than a rocket's red glare -- when a group of Hispanic vocal artists released a Spanish-language version of the song. And while the State Department Web site does post Francis Scott Key's 1814 rendition in other languages not all Americans are in favor of a multilingual version.

President Bush weighed in on the subject in a Rose Garden ceremony on April 28, saying, "I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English. And they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

On Monday, May 1, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., rose bravely on the floor of the U.S. Senate to defend the anthem from those who would sing it in Spanish, saying "We should always sing it in our common language -- English."

It's a song that's not exactly pure in its origins. Adopted as the national anthem in 1931, the lyrics come from a 1814 poem by lawyer Francis Scott Key, who was inspired by the American flag flying over Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor during a British naval bombardment. So moved was Key by the sight that he lifted the music from a British composer.

The tune -- and its notoriously archaic lyrics -- have been mangled by singers ever since. A recent poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans cannot correctly recite the lyrics, much less sing them.