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John Stafford Smith (30 March 1750 – 21 September 1836) was a British composer, church organist, and early musicologist. He was one of the first serious collectors of manuscripts of works by Johann Sebastian Bach.

John Stafford Smith
Stafford Smith.png
Born (1750-03-30)30 March 1750
Gloucester, Great Britain
Died 21 September 1836(1836-09-21) (aged 86)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Occupation Composer
Known for Composed "The Anacreontic Song", later adopted as the tune of the national anthem of the United States

Stafford Smith is best known for writing the music for "The Anacreontic Song", which became the tune for the American patriotic song "The Star-Spangled Banner" following the War of 1812, and in 1931 was adopted as the national anthem of the United States.


Early life and educationEdit

Smith was baptised in Gloucester Cathedral, England, on 30 March 1750, the son of Martin Smith, organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1743 to 1782. He attended the Gloucester cathedral school, where he became a boy-singer. He furthered his career as a choir boy at the Chapel Royal, London, and also studied under the famous Dr. William Boyce.


By the 1770s he had gained a reputation as a composer and an organist. He was elected as a member of the select Anacreontic Society which boasted amongst its membership such persons as Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

In the 1770s, Smith composed music for the society's constitutional song entitled "To Anacreon in Heaven" (The Anacreontic Song). The words were by Ralph Tomlinson, the president of the society, and were inspired by the 6th-century BC Greek lyric poet, Anacreon, who wrote odes on the pleasures of love and wine. The song became popular in Britain and also America following the establishment of several Anacreontic Societies there. Smith never married.

Smith later became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1784, organist for the Chapel Royal in 1802 and Master of the Children in 1805. he also became lay-vicar of Westminster Abbey. He was organist at the Three Choirs Festival held at Gloucester in 1790.

Smith is considered to be the first Englishman to be a serious antiquarian and musicologist.[1] He began by publishing his A Collection of English Song in 1779 which musicologist Nicholas Temperley called "perhaps the first scholarly edition printed in England."[2] Smith's library included the Old Hall Manuscript, Drexel 4175, as well as a copy of Ulm Gesangbuch from 1538 that had belonged to Johann Sebastian Bach.[2] He also collected works that dated back to the 12th century including some Gregorian chants. His publication Musica Antiqua (1812) included musical scores of works by Jacob Obrecht, Adrian Willaert, Jacob Clemens and Cristóbal de Morales with historical notes on each piece. According to Vincent Duckles, Smith's major contribution was "to direct the attention of his readers to the importance of source studies."[2]


John Stafford Smith's memorial in Gloucester Cathedral

Smith died in 1836 at the age of eighty-six, his death allegedly caused by a grape-pip lodged in his windpipe. He is buried in Gloucester Cathedral and has a memorial plaque there, above which are hung the Union Jack and Stars and Stripes.[3]


American national anthemEdit

In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry" (later re-titled, "The Star-Spangled Banner"), which came to be sung to the tune of Stafford Smith's "Anacreon". Congress officially designated the song the national anthem of the United States in 1931.[4]


  1. ^ Morrison, Chris. "John Stafford Smith". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 July 2012. John Stafford Smith has been called 'virtually the first English musicologist.'… [He] remains a significant figure in American history as the composer of the tune that Francis Scott Key adapted into "The Star-Spangled Banner", the national anthem of the United States. 
  2. ^ a b c Nicholas Temperley, "Smith, John Stafford," Oxford Music Online/Grove Music Online, accessed 29 December 2015 (access by subscription).
  3. ^ "John Stafford Smith (1750–1836) – Find a Grave". Retrieved 4 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "John Stafford Smith: Composer of the Star Spangled Banner". Gloucestershire Portal. Archived from the original on 11 July 2007. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 

Further readingEdit

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