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Do we need a new national anthem?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  February 7, 2011 09:20 PM

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Christina Aguilera has been subject to widespread ridicule for her mangled rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl yesterday — but really, why is anyone surprised?

"The Star-Spangled Banner," as Aguilera's defenders are pointing out, is a notoriously difficult song to sing, unless you happen to be Whitney Houston.

Indeed, before Sunday there was already a long tradition of botched national anthems, as the Globe's CultureDesk blog documented today.

So why not change the national anthem to something more singable? Flubs like Aguilera's might be easier to overlook if the difficult-to-sing song was also widely beloved. But it's not. Back in 2001, writers for Slate noticed that after the Sept. 11 attacks, it was "God Bless America," and not the official anthem, that spontaneously emerged as the patriotic tune of choice. They suggested giving "The Star-Spangled Banner" a dignified retirement and adopting a more popular song in its place.

If that ever happened, one of the presumptive candidates would be "America the Beautiful" by Falmouth-born Katharine Lee Bates, a Wellesley College English professor who wrote the lyrics in 1893. The idea supposedly came to her during a trip to Colorado, when she was awed by the vista atop Pike's Peak.

But Alfred Gingold argued in Slate in 2001 that "America the Beautiful" failed what he called the "Casablanca challenge": for all the song's poetic beauty, it's hard to imagine showing up the Nazis at Rick's Cafe with an homage to your "amber waves of grain."

Globe file photo: a statue in Falmouth honoring Katharine Lee Bates, author of "America the Beautiful."

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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