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creative:impact - 'The Star Spangled Banner' Waves On As It Changes O’er Time

Mark Clague
University of Michigan School of Music, Theater, & Dance

Music critics of all stripes had plenty to say about Lady Gaga’s national anthem performance at President Biden’s inauguration.  Deb Polich and David Fair asked Mark Clague, widely recognized as the expert on "The Star Spangled Banner," to share his thoughts on her interpretation.  Mark takes a deep-dive into this storied anthem on this edition of "creative:impact."  Listen here.

Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of The Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


When not interim dean, he is:

  • Associate Professor of Musicology, American Culture, and Arts Entrepreneurship Leadership
  • Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs.


A specialist in American music research, Professor Clague received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago (2002) after writing a dissertation about 19th-century music in Chicago at the Auditorium Building.  During his studies, he performed in the bassoon section of the Chicago Symphony’s Civic Orchestra for three years and received the orchestra’s Sudler Award in 1993.  Clague earned a Bachelor of Music degree in bassoon performance and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history of art, while completing the Artists and Scholars Program, summa cum laude, at U-M.

Foremost Scholar on the Star Spangled Banner

Clague’s research on the U.S. national anthem led to the publication of the Star Spangled Songbook (2015) and the double CD Poets and Patriots (2014).  He was awarded one of the inaugural NEH Public Scholar fellowships to complete a book on the two-hundred-year history of the song.  That book will be published by W.W. Norton under the title, "O Say Can You Hear?: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The University of Michigan Gershwin Initiative - Mark Clague, project director and editor-in-chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition 

This substantial and historically significant partnership between the Gershwin families and U-M was initiated by Todd Gershwin, a U-M alumnus who is the grandnephew of George and Ira Gershwin and the son of Marc George Gershwin.

The initiative - An ongoing scholarly examination of the Gershwins’ music, in which U-M scholars in collaboration with peers from across the nation and globe will document and analyze—note-by-note and word-by-word—the treasure trove of works featuring music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin—including Porgy and Bess, often considered America’s greatest opera—as well as the celebrated instrumental works by George Gershwin.

Remarkably, the Gershwins’ works have never received the benefit of scholarly editing, partially due to George Gershwin’s premature and tragic death from a brain tumor at age 38.

Music of the United States of America (MUSA) - Mark Clague, co-editor in chief 

Music of the United States of America (MUSA) a national project founded in 1988 and hosted by the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance.  MUSA is a series of scholarly editions of American music that tells the history of our nation in sheet music.  It aims to represent the diversity of our nation’s heritage by publishing music of historical importance and high quality previously unavailable in reliable critical editions.

MUSA endeavors to place the sounds of American music and American musical styles, including jazz, psalmody, popular song, twentieth-century chamber music, art song, Native American ceremony and the Broadway shown the context of the nation's cultural life.

MUSA was just awarded a $205,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to publish five new volumes in the series.


University of Michigan School of Music, Theater, & Dance

Dr. Mark Clague

The Gershwin Initiative

Music of America

Star Spangled Music

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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