“God Save the Queen” is a classic, Russia’s national anthem kind of slaps, but – and I hope you’ll forgive me for being partial – I love “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Sure, it’s not the first song on my road trip playlist, but if a video of Renée Fleming’s 2014 Super Bowl performance pops up on my YouTube feed, you better believe I’m going to stop whatever I’m doing and watch it.
Despite its relatively short run time, Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” is deceptively tricky to sing. The vocal range required, even without optioning up at the end, is enough to take most singers aback.
But still, there are those rare voices who absolutely knock the national anthem out of the park – or, in this case, the stadium.
National Anthem Day is Wednesday, so it is an appropriate time to review some of my favorite performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the past few decades, all five of these by women.
Whitney Houston When people think of a great national anthem performance, they usually bring up Whitney Houston’s at Super Bowl XXV. It was so well done that it was released as a single, the proceeds of which Houston donated to the families of the soldiers fighting in the Persian Gulf War.
People love to remind me that she was lip syncing, to which I say, “Yeah, but wasn’t it great?” And it’s still her voice.
Beyoncé Perhaps the most popular living performer, the legend, icon and star Beyoncé Knowles Carter was bound to knock her Super Bowl performance out of the stadium. Like Houston before her, she lip synced it, but no one could honestly doubt her ability to perform live.
The Houston-born woman was born to be on stage. And, again, it’s still her voice.
Jennifer Hudson Hudson’s Super Bowl XLIII performance was similarly excellent. I assume this was what Fergie was going for during that infamous NBA All-star game. Hudson’s management admitted two days after the performance that she was lip synching, but, again, I don’t care.
The song is already difficult enough without having to sing it in front of the entire country. And, again, it’s still her voice.
Lady Gaga One of the few Super Bowl performers to sing live, Lady Gaga’s rendition of the national anthem was about as on brand as it ever could’ve been. She may have been dressed for “The Hunger Games,” but it’s performances like this that remind me of why I love Lady Gaga as much as I do.
She approaches all of her work with such reverence and artistry that if you step back for even a second, you can’t help but respect her. And then she would return the next year for an equally impressive halftime show.
Renée Fleming And last but by no means least, my favorite has to be Fleming. I have listened to her Super Bowl performance a truly embarrassing number of times, but I just can’t stop because where some singers without classical training might have struggled to hit the notes, Fleming soared.
One of the most famous and celebrated living operatic performers, Fleming was more than up to the challenge. And, like Lady Gaga, she sang the national anthem live.
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