What are the lyrics to the US National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner?

24 April 2023, 12:08 | Updated: 18 September 2023, 16:30

Renée Fleming- Super Bowl 2014 National Anthem

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem of the United States. But where do the lyrics come from, and what’s the history of the anthem?

‘Oh, say can you see...’, goes ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. But what are the words to the rest of the US national anthem?

Discover the history and lyrics to the well-known anthem below.

Read more: The world’s greatest national anthems

Who composed the US national anthem?

The music was written by British composer and early musicologist John Stafford Smith around 1773, but remained lyric-less until 1814, when American lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key set his poem ‘Defence of Fort M’Henry’ to the music.

Key was inspired to write it after he saw the American flag flying above Fort McHenry after US forces fought off an attack by British forces during the Battle of Baltimore.

However, the anthem wasn’t adopted until 87 years ago, on 3 March 1931. In the 19th century, ‘Hail, Columbia’ was used at official functions, alongside ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ – whose tune is the same as the UK national anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’.

Following the war of 1812 and other US wars, a few other songs were used and suggested for the country’s main anthem, including ‘America the Beautiful’.

More recently, there have been cries to discard ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ completely. Its author, as well as being a poet, was a slave holder – and the song’s place as the country’s anthem has been brought up for debate in the wake of protests and calls for racial justice in the US.

Read more: US congressman files bill to make ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ new national hymn

Lady Gaga sings US national anthem at Biden inauguration
Lady Gaga sings US national anthem at Biden inauguration. Picture: Getty/IMSLP

What are the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner?

Oh, 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 thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, 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 through 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 in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh 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 washed 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!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it 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!

Read more: A professional soprano appraises Lady Gaga’s inauguration performance

Lady Gaga performs the national anthem at Joe Biden's inauguration

Who has performed ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’?

Like most national anthems, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is sung at the beginning of sporting events, orchestral concerts and other public gatherings.

But thanks to a few spectacular viral performances by singers including Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera, the song has found more worldwide fame than other national anthems.