Monday, January 28, 2008

Honoring our nation

This Sunday, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XLII.

The Star-Spangled Banner can be a difficult song to pull off, though, and should be attempted on the high stage by only the best.

Otherwise, we get moments like these:

Roseanne Barr before a San Diego Padres game on July 26, 1990:

Current Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton got into the act last year, when she made his first appearance as a candidate in Iowa on Jan. 27, 2007. MSNBC's microphone picked her up singing along:

(On a side note, I know this isn't sports-related, but when I googled "bad national anthem singing," Hillary was at the top of the list. I kid you not.)

By the way, for the two or three readers of this site, I know you're wondering why I didn't include Carl Lewis' rendition before a Bulls-Nets game in 1993, but I couldn't find any video of it. I think he must have got ESPN to burn all copies of that tape.

The best renditions, though, depend on the time and place.

There was that stretch in January 1991, that produced not one but two memorable performances. The Persian Gulf War was on to oust Saddam Hussein and Iraq from Kuwait. The United States sent over hundreds of thousands of troops to do the job right. With the military response came a wave of support from Americans, including chill-inducing performances of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The first came on my 15th birthday, Jan. 21, 1991, at the NHL All-Star Game, played at perhaps the best hockey arena that was ever built, Chicago Stadium. In perhaps the greatest rendition of the national anthem ever, fan favorite Wayne Messmer sang his heart out, and the fans nearly drowned him out.

A week later, at Super Bowl XXV between the Giants and Bills at the Big Sombrero, Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Whitney Houston stepped out and belted out this number:

Granted, we found out later the song was pre-recorded, and she lip-synced the whole thing, but it did its job. A single of her version of the song actually became a minor hit for a couple of months after that.

But then there was Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Taking a funky, soulful approach, he turned Francis Scott Key's words into something more spiritual:

So go U.S.A.!


Wouter said...

A discussion of great national anthems almost has to include the Dixie Chicks before Superbowl XXXVII. Gives me chills every time, even more than Houston's version (which was great; before I was aware it was prerecorded, I was surprised at the ease with which she delivered such a booming version). I'm just afraid that this year will be another "showoff" version of the anthem, putting vocal prowess over the song itself (I'm looking at you, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and others). I mean, come on, how can you really honor the country, the scene the song intends to conjure, by having some diva take 5 seconds to finish every vowel?

Rob said...

I'll give you that the Dixie Chicks' version was a good one (Was their performance before or after they got in trouble for their criticism of President Bush? No bearing on the quality, just curious).

As far as "showoff" versions, I think that's pretty much the norm anymore. I remember the Simpsons made fun of this happening, with a anthem performance before a Springfield Isotopes game taking half an hour to do. I thought it was funny anyway...:)