The national anthem is hard enough to sing even if you don’t think about it. But Louisa deLoach has been thinking about it – maybe more than your average 12-year-old.
The American Revolution goes back deep in her family. Her middle name is Moultrie, for William Moultrie, distant kin on her mother’s side. Moultrie is the colonel who held off the British attack on Sullivan’s Island on June 28, 1776 – six days before our Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4.
“The anthem is about the country and how many people fought for it,” says Louisa, who’s a rising seventh-grader at Camden Middle School. “It’s an honor to sing it on the Fourth of July.”
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Louisa is singing the anthem before the Charlotte Knights’ game Friday night. She beat out more than 50 other singers who sent in videos as part of a contest sponsored by WBT and WLNK-FM, who are putting on the SkyShowStreet Party in uptown and setting off fireworks after the game. If you were playing Fourth of July Bingo, you could fill a bunch of squares just by hanging around uptown Friday: baseball, fireworks, hot dogs, beer. Plus that grand American tradition of a weekday off.
But before we get back to Louisa, let’s pay a bit of attention to what she’ll be singing about, and what brings us all together on this particular day.
You know this from history class: The Declaration of Independence announced that the United States was laying claim to its own country, unshackled from the British. You might not remember that the national anthem wasn’t written until 38 years later, during the War of 1812, which ended up lasting until 1814. (Never name a war after a year. Wars last too long.)
Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” from a ship in Baltimore Harbor, where he was negotiating the release of an American prisoner of war. On the night of Sept. 13, 1814, Key watched the British Navy bombard Fort McHenry. The next day, the American flag rose intact from the fort, and Key began to write. Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave …
Independence was and is a battle.
That’s a hard thing to think about on a day that feels so nice and easy. You can let the day just wash over you, put “Independence Day” in quotes, turn it into a Will Smith movie or a Martina McBride song.
But we still struggle with the basic conflict of a free country – the urge to go it alone as individuals versus the need to come together as one. The way we celebrate the Fourth of July speaks to it. It’s a party to honor our independence as a nation and as people – but the best way to enjoy it is collectively. It’s no fun watching fireworks alone.
Back down in Camden, Louisa deLoach’s room is full of art. There’s a collage on one wall made up of pages from a book she hated. There’s an abstract painting on an easel and an origami bird hanging from the ceiling fan. There’s some flea-market luggage on top of her closet – she doesn’t use it, she just likes the way it looks. When her mom, May, gets up in the morning, sometimes she finds a gift from Louisa: little drawings of toast and eggs and orange juice.
But music moves Louisa most. She was humming melodies along with her brother, Joe, before she could talk. She used to put on little shows in the house – the first song she remembers learning to sing was Avril Lavigne’s “When You’re Gone” when she was 5. Now she plays piano by ear and has figured out seven chords on the guitar. She has written a bunch of songs but says there’s only one good one, “Count Your Blessings.” It’s about her dad (also named Joe).
“Wait,” Joe says. “That’s about me?”
“Dad,” Louisa says. “Pay attention.”
One day she got out a canvas and painted the lyrics to Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway”:
Grew up in a small town
And when the rain would fall down
I’d just stare out the window
Dreaming of what could be
She propped the canvas in her window.
She’s been practicing the anthem a lot to get ready for Friday night. The key is breathing. She takes in big breaths so she’s got enough air to sing a line and stretch for the high notes.
Let’s stretch a little. There’s a connection between the freedom and independence of a 12-year-old girl, full of thoughts and feelings and ideas, and the freedom and independence of a country. What we want to be is a place where people can learn to create themselves, and then work together to create something even better.
We are a flawed and argumentative bunch, and we don’t always treat one another kindly. But our country was founded on the idea that we can do great things individually and as a whole.
Louisa deLoach is nervous about singing the national anthem in front of a big crowd. But she’s excited, too, because she won’t really be singing by herself. All those other people know the words, and they’ll sing with her. Alone and together, both at once. That’s how it works on Independence Day.
Tommy Tomlinson is a former reporter and columnist for the Observer. He’s now a freelance writer in Charlotte. Find his work at tommytomlinson.com or reach him at email@example.com.