75 years as the city's anthem --but how many know how it goes?

February 22, 1991|By Randi Henderson

You might not know that today is the 75th anniversary of the first performance of "Baltimore Our Baltimore," the song referred to as the city's anthem.

You might not even know that the city has an anthem.

Once a standard feature of municipal events and school programs, the song has receded into near oblivion.

"It's rarely ever sung," said a spokeswoman for Baltimore City schools. "I have been told that's because it's very difficult to sing."

"The last time I heard it was at the mayor's state of the city address last spring," said Clint Coleman, press secretary for Mayor Kurt Schmoke. "It was played -- but not too many people sang along."

The song was first performed on Washington's Birthday 1916, a ceremonious unveiling that followed a contest for a municipal song. The lyrics were written by Folger McKinsey, a one-time protege of Walt Whitman who became a Sun columnist known as the Bentztown Bard. Emma Hemberger, a student of voice and piano, wrote the original melody. Each won a prize of $250 in gold for their efforts.

At its premiere 75 years ago, on the stage of the Lyric Theatre, the song was performed by 300 high school girls and a professional choral group, with orchestral accompaniment. A music critic of the time called the verse "a kind of resume of the features that make [Baltimore] one of the most loved municipalities of the land." The music, he wrote, "is not only extremely dignified and sincere, but it has an excellent swing and a melodic verve."

For years the song was played at city functions and taught in city schools. But it never achieved the popularity of the Baltimore-born national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," or the catchier state song, "Maryland, My Maryland."

The mayor chose to have the song played at his speech last year, Mr. Coleman said, to convey "a sense of city spirit. He wanted to be upbeat, to let people know the city would survive" despite a bleak economic outlook that had been widely publicized.

'Baltimore Our Baltimore'

(first verse)

Baltimore, where Carroll flourished, and the fame of Calvert grew!

Here the old defenders conquered as their valiant swords they drew.

Here the starry banner glistened in the sunshine of the sea.

In that dawn of golden vision that awoke the song of Key.

Here are hearts that beat forever for the city we adore.

Here the love of men and brothers -- Baltimore, our Baltimore!

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