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The Star-Spangled Banner Rides a Creative Wave

by Sheron Long on May 19, 2014

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Minor Key, Major Creative Thinking

Just before the “Play ball” call goes out in baseball stadiums across America, fans pause to honor an American tradition. Hand over heart, many sing along with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

It’s a warm day, a happy time, and the music is in feel-good major key.

Then along comes Chase Holfelder who, honoring the tradition of creative thinking that built America, decides to experiment. He sings the song in minor key and delivers a performance described by many as “hauntingly beautiful.”

First Burst of Creativity

In September 1814 during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and amateur poet, began a poem on the back of a letter and thereby created what would become our national anthem. Originally titled “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” Key was inspired by seeing the US flag still flying after a night of heavy bombardment at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.

The Star Spangled Banner flag that inspired the lyrics to the US national anthem in 1814 and whose music and lyrics have been impacted by the creative thinking of subsequent generations. (Image from the Smithsonian Institution Archives)

This Star-Spangled Banner flag inspired the lyrics to the
US national anthem. A linen backing indicates its original
size that was reduced by pieces cut off for souvenirs.
Image from Smithsonian Institution Archives

By November, the work had achieved popular acclaim—17 newspapers had printed the poem, and the Carr Music Company had published both words and music.

No Stopping the Flow of Creativity

By the early 1900s, several versions of the song existed. A panel of musicians, including  John Philip Sousa, standardized a major-key rendition that was adopted by Congress in 1931 as the US national anthem.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was institutionalized at public sports events during WWII. Creative adaptations began with Jose Feliciano’s blues-style version during the 1968 World Series, causing both acclaim and controversy.

Since then, versions rock, show soul, speak country, follow a Latin beat, and more. So much so that critics have taken to choosing their top ten renditions.


Airmen presenting a 100-yard by 50-yard flag at the Las Vegas Bowl, 2006, while the audience sings "The Star-Spangled Banner," an anthem personalized over time by a century's worth of creative thinking. (Image © Stocktrek Images)

Airmen present a 100-yard by 50-yard flag during the national anthem at the Las Vegas Bowl, 2006.
© Stocktrek Images


When Creative Works Go Viral

With his minor key version, Chase Holfelder, a web producer and user experience designer, has now added his mark on the national anthem. Uploaded on April 22, 2014, it has already received over 1,200,000 views—a remarkable speed even in our age of social media.

While some protest what they call “tampering” with a patriotic icon, others are looking for a national vote to make the minor key version official. They hear it as a better fit for today’s America.

Holfelder’s audience see many creative possibilities:

“This needs to be on the new Godzilla soundtrack. I want to see this haunting tune set to slow motion depictions of soldiers and citizens fighting side-by-side for their lives as the sky burns and Cthulhu takes his throne.”

—Andrew Chason

“This should be the song Anthony and Joe Russo decide to use for the hopeful reunion of Steve and Bucky in Captain America 3.”

—Rachel Fortune

“I feel like this would be sung at Captain America’s funeral.”

—Alice Ampora

Meanwhile, another creative type has already remixed Holfelder’s version with the theme from Winter Soldier playing in the background. And Holfelder has gone on to release “Amazing Grace” in minor key.

Creativity builds on creativity.

Oh, I see. We may not know what’s next, but when it comes to creative thinking and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the one thing we do know is that there will be a “next.”


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