Francis Scott Key was born in what is now Carroll County, Maryland, on August 9, 1779. His father was a lawyer, judge, and officer in the Continental Army. Key went to school at St. John’s College, studied law in his uncle’s office, and practiced law in Frederick City, MD, before moving to Washington, where he was district attorney for the District of Columbia. He lived in Georgetown, where he was a vestryman of St. John’s Church and Christ Church, and where he taught Sunday School.

He was Sam Houston’s attorney during his trial in the House of Representatives for assaulting another congressman. In 1835, he prosecuted Richard Lawrence for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Andrew Jackson.

Key was known as a poet and writer, and is famous for writing what later became “The Star-Spangled Banner.” On September 13, 1814, about a week after British troops invaded and burned the city of Washington, Key and American Prisoner Exchange Agent Col. John Stuart Skinner dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, as guests of three British officers. There to negotiate the release of an American who was being held prisoner, Key and Skinner learned about the British intention to attack Baltimore. After their meeting, they were allowed to return to their own sloop, but not allowed to return to Baltimore because of what they had learned. As a result, Key watched the British bombard American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. At dawn the next day, Key saw that the huge American flag was still waving. He was inspired to write a poem, which he titled “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” The poem became the song “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and was adopted as the American national anthem, first by an executive order from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and then by a Congressional resolution in 1931.

The history of who actually wrote the music for Key’s poem is fuzzy, but many histories point to a song written by British composer John Stafford Smith, called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The words were composed by Ralph Tomlinson, and both were members of “The Anacreon Club,” a group of wealthy men who met to eat and drink. The melody was popular in America in the early 19th century, and it seems likely that Key used the song as a template for his own poem.

Key died in 1843 and is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick.

It is interesting to note that the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore (there’s also one between Rosslyn and Georgetown) is at the approximate point where the British anchored to shell Fort McHenry.


Tori Amos is known for her stark, intense, confessional lyrics about sexuality, religion, and personal tragedy. She has recorded nine studio albums and numerous live recordings and videos, and she has eight Grammys and four MTV Video Music Awards.

Amos was born Myra Ellen Amos in Newton, North Carolina, on August 22, 1963. She was raised in Maryland, the daughter of a Methodist minister. Amos began playing piano when she was a toddler. When she was six years old, she won a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, becoming its youngest student ever. However, she was asked to leave when she was 11, for unclear reasons.

She went to Richard Montgomery High School, where she was voted Homecoming Queen and Most Likely to Succeed. Amos graduated in 1981 and started playing in piano bars and local clubs. She moved to LA when she was 21 and became the lead singer of a hard-rock band called Y Kant Tori Read, possibly a reference to her time at Peabody, where she rebelled against learning to read music. The band signed a six-record deal with Atlantic and released an album in 1988, but its debut album was a commercial and critical failure.

In 1991, she released her semi-confessional song about a sexual attack, “Me and a Gun,” as an EP. Her first album as a solo singer/songwriter, Little Earthquakes, was released in 1992. The Crucify EP was also released in 1992; it featured three covers, including Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You.” Her second solo album “Under the Pink,” was released in 1994. That year, Amos founded the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), a toll-free help-line connecting callers with local rape crisis centers.

In 1996, Amos’ third solo album, “Boys for Pele,” was released. “From the Choirgirl Hotel” was released in 1998, and the two-disc “To Venus and Back,” containing live songs from a tour and new studio songs, followed in 1999. In 2001, Tori ended her 15-year relationship with Atlantic with an album of covers, “Strange Little Girls.” She signed with Sony/Epic the next year, and released “Scarlet’s Walk.” In November 2003, “Tales of a Librarian,” a retrospective hits CD, was released to fulfill her final obligation to Atlantic. Under her new contract with Epic, Amos appeared as a big band singer in the film “Mona Lisa Smile” and contributed two songs to the soundtrack.

“The Beekeeper,” her eighth studio album, was released in 2005. It debuted at US #5, placing Amos in an elite group of women to have five or more US Top 10 album debuts. In 2005, Amos formed the Bridge Entertainment Group, an organization devoted to helping musicians. That same year, Amos started a series of live “official bootlegs,” recorded during her “Original Sinsuality” tour. In December 2005, all six two-disc sets were issued as a 12-disc box set, “The Original Bootlegs.” Also during 2005, Amos negotiated a contract with Warner Bros. Reissue Imprint Rhino to release reissues and compilations. The first release, in February 2006, was a two-disc DVD, “Fade to Red: The Video Collection.” A five-disc box set, “A Piano: The Collection” was released later the same year. Her latest studio album, “American Doll Posse,” was released in May 2007.


Content courtesy of Washington Area Music Association.

Featured image by Reuters/Lucas Jackson