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The national anthem kicks off the Super Bowl each year and is a glorious moment. Which singer or group sang it best?
Which beloved songster gave the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner that no one can forget, on this much-anticipated sports day?
Legend has it that the finest opener of the Super football event was … (wait for it) … Whitney Houston.
Who says it was the best Super Bowl national anthem?
Now, how was this decided? When was the formal contest? Who says so? Well, it is in the realm of the latter. We haven’t found a formal poll. But each time and place you ask (at the sports bar or around beer and pretzels as your crowd gathers in the living room for the new year’s playing), that’s the name that always comes up.
The first time this battle of the best footballers was held was in 1967. Since then, each end-of-season, the country’s song has been at the top of the day.
The nation’s hymn at your preference: soaring, smooth as silk, or rousing
It has been given by choirs, groups, male or female soloists over the years. There have been lone instruments, small bands, and grand orchestras. Especially in the first years, marching bands and local or regional artists were recruited to take on the task.
Pop superstars, besides Whitney, have led the field recently and even in the early years (Cher 1999, Beyonce 2004, Jennifer Hudson 2009, Lady Gaga 2016, and there were more). But many other genres have been represented.
Just to mention some of the cream of the crop:
- country – Garth Brooks 1993, Faith Hill 2000, Dixie Chicks 2003, Luke Bryan 2017
- R&B – Luther Vandross 1997
- opera – Renee Fleming 2014
- Broadway – Idina Menzel 2015
- gospel – Natalie Cole 1994
- jazz instrumental – Al Hirt 1970, Winston Marsalis 1986
These are not all who did the job but include those that come immediately to mind – memorable.
Songstresses have predominated both in the numbers who have been invited to be there. But also on anybody’s “greatest” lists.
In 1991, Whitney, already well-established as a vocal superstar, “mopped the floor”. Although many superlative editions have been heard since, as good as they are, her effort still stands.
Listen up: You decide
The Super Bowl is about to start in Tampa in 1991. Players are getting ready. Anticipation is building. What gives the whole affair its shove into the limelight each year: the singular performance of America’s anthem.
The familiar identifiable notes begin. Stand up, if you are not already. Hush. Put your hand on your heart. Listen. Hear.
Very cool. Instead of dressing like the famous celebrity she was, she wore a white tracksuit and headband with patriotic red and blue designs. Totally suitable.
Read a moving account of the moment and the occasion.
Whitney Houston, a phenomenon with or without this performance
When I started looking into this topic, I was prejudiced. I had already heard many of these shows, either at the time they were carried out or later. Whitney was my pick as top from my own informal assessment.
I was actually a little shocked when I scanned so many news stories and articles on the Internet and saw that what she had done was uniformly applauded as number one: the Whitney Houston national anthem.
My shock was not because I knew it was good. But it had to be amazingly good for there to be such an unguided consensus. There are lots of “Top 10” lists out there. The major popular sports event at the height of winter has attracted so many sterling achievements.
Whitney was at the top of her career
It is said that Whitney was at the height of her career at this time. She was at the top of her singing power.
As amazing as this Bowl accomplishment was, she had many others. In popular culture, a number are considered even better than this one. Of course, that may be because songs in our times that are on the Billboard top songs lists and so on, are usually enjoyed more on a casual basis than our national anthem! That is ok. Anthems are for special times and distinguished events.
Listen to one of her most brilliant performances
“I Will Always Love You” from the movie The Bodyguard, at the Grammy Awards show. 1994.
Her gospel heritage and start in music
She was born in New Jersey into a gospel heritage. Her mother, Cissy, was a choir minister at New Hope Baptist Church and an accomplished singer herself. Cissy possessed a lovely voice. As a teen, the young Whitney sang together with her mom. She went on to try out pop music herself.
Clive Davis, the well-known music industry influencer, discovered her singing in her late teens. The rest, as they say, is definitely history. Song after song, award after award, for years.
Her first awards were in 1985 from Billboard and the NAACP. Grammys and American Music Awards were hers the next year. And many later seasons, for a total of 6 Grammys and 22 AMAs over the next several decades.
She became the most awarded songstress in modern music history. She’s a Guinness World Record holder!
The sadness of the diva’s later years
Whitney’s engagement with music declined in later years, undoubtedly related to troubles in marital life and drug exposure. Her unfortunate and tragic death in 2012 affected many in the country. Who was not a Whitney Houston fan?
Who sang the national anthem at the Super Bowls? All the other greats and near-greats
For this notable event, every season a respected singer or group is invited to give their interpretation. They are far from being alike! Who has been chosen each year to put themselves up there and warble the most important American hymn?
Alone with a piano, or almost drowned out by the boom of a big band. Upon occasion, there’s no music – only singing; sometimes there’s no singing – only music.
It’s hard to “rate” or “grade” one showing versus another until some years have passed. Somehow we almost always need that time to gain some perspective. Without that tincture of time, it tends to be that we call up the most recent one as what we like best.
Browse through a fascinating explanation of how the good singers cause us to love the anthem anew by each giving it their unique touch, but not straying too far from its optimum meaning.
A look at some of the many popular stars who showed up at the stadiums
There have been a number of stellar shows put on by terrific pop artists. The ladies seem to be most frequently invited to perform, and respond with a top of the mark appearances.
Let’s look at, and listen to, some from the past.
Billy Joel – Everyman’s song
We liked this very much. It is very simple and straight forward. He just got up there and sang it. He sang it again in 2007 while playing the piano. We liked the first time better.
At the time of this first set, Billy, at age 40, was well entrenched in a marvelous career as pop singer and songwriter. Who can forget his colorful “Uptown Girl” (1983) or “New York State of Mind” (1976) or … well, there are so many. We’re glad he broke form and went to the Super Bowl too.
Carrie Underwood brought a country vibe
A few men, women, and groups have given a country edge to the national song. Some with a more subtle style.
Carrie Underwood’s 2006 effort in Seattle was stunningly beautiful because of its straight forward simplicity and natural feeling. A cappella and right on each note! So many people commented: “So this is what it is supposed to sound like!” We agree.
“So this is what it is supposed to sound like!“
Somehow, the solo human voice, unaccompanied by any other instruments, is strikingly appropriate for delivering brilliant hymns of national significance.
Carrie was the 2004 winner of the reality singing contest, American Idol, and was a rising star at the time.
Jazz trumpets blew us away
Interestingly, several trumpeters have given solo performances. “The trumpet sings”, said a fan.
Al Hirt’s in 1970 was beautiful and masterful. Herb Alpert put out a great effort in 1988 in San Diego that did not make his cover too jazzed up, just good.
Herb Alpert and trumpet
1988, San Diego
Soul of Atlanta comes through
Hard to believe that anyone at 74 years of age could get through this difficult piece of music still looking and sounding great. But that’s exactly what happened.
And the flyover, by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, timed perfectly to coincide with the ending, seen through the open roof of the stadium.
Gladys Knight, Empress of Soul
Military Choirs show us how massive hymns should be delivered
Marching bands and choirs have been part of or the entire performance marking a number of years, especially early on. In 2005, at the game in Jacksonville, Florida, the combined choirs (called the “Academy Choirs”) offered a stunning show.
The combined choirs
- U.S. Military Academy
- U.S. Naval Academy
- U.S. Air Force Academy
- U.S. Coast Guard Academy
- U.S. Army Herald Trumpets
Frankly, after hearing this one, nothing can compare.
These are not all the artists or genres represented that have been there to start this outstanding mid-winter sports scene. We’ve just gone over what’s struck us the most at this time.
Let us know if you think we’ve missed the best (or most touching) version that comes to your mind.
Live performances are riveting, but they don’t always go as well as hoped
Controversy: Should the anthem be sung “live” or is “pre-recorded” ok? Somehow we think better of a well-given “live” songfest. It is definitely brave! But quality goes up if it has been actually performed earlier and the recording given with lip syncing. So many things can happen to disrupt a performance.
In fact, that very thing actually happened one year. Christina Aguilera, who has one of the very best voices in the business muffed her lines in 2011! We’ll never know how great it might have sounded if she had done it ahead in the studio.
Our much-applauded winner, Whitney, did record hers ahead. Years since, nobody seems to mind. We all know that she could sing live very, very well. She did it so many times, at so many famous events, in her career. Now we have this best effort for posterity.
The history of the hymn that you learned well in school
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,Francis Scott Key
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight’
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
What is the national anthem called?
The Star-Spangled Banner dates from the War of 1812.
The amateur poet Francis Scott Key saw the British ships attacking Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.
He drew inspiration from the sight of the 15 stars and 15 stripes of a large United States flag that topped the fort.
He set his poetic words to the music of a British (fancy that!) song that was then popular in the States.
Why is the song of the United States played at the Super Bowl?
It is played before quite a lot of sports games and has been for many years. How it got that way is interesting. Here’s an elucidating article. At your leisure, read here about how the national anthem got connected to sporting events: some history and some controversies.
Reading all this about the hymn, the prominent singers, and the NFL end season event may have brought some new thoughts and questions to mind. We’ve tried to anticipate some, at least the ones that came up for us!
Surely the anthem was sung well at major events other than the Super Bowl, wasn’t it?
Of course, but we are not concentrating on them today.
Just because you asked, here is Marvin Gaye’s 1983 achievement at the NBA All-Star Game. Brace yourselves: It is definitely not traditional. But it is pretty wonderful.
Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game 1983, Inglewood, California
Tired of all these serious sounds?
Then you may be ready for a Saturday Night Live parody!
This came out in 2006 and spoofed the World Series. Some swear it became the prototype for a few “misses” (and “near-misses”) in subsequent years’ major sports performances at other venues. We have no comment.
It is funny. Especially if you are a can’t-miss-it SNL fan.
The national anthem crowdsourced
Read this (and look and listen too): The unexpected happened here.
The national anthem was due to be played, as usual, at the beginning of the program, to denote the start of the high school softball championship game in Clovis, California. But then, the local announcer indicated that it would not be played.
The crowd booed. And then … they spontaneously began to sing. They did it their way!
The news report with video is here so that you can experience it yourselves.
It’s Super Bowl trivia time!
Q & A
What year was the Star-Spangled Banner not sung? What was given instead and by whom?
Vikki Carr sang “America the Beautiful” in 1977. (We don’t know why!)
By the way, in more recent times, that song has also been included in Super Bowl festivities. It is being sung by another singer, before the major hymn.
Which teams played in Super Bowl XXV, the one at which Whitney Houston entertained us so well?
The New York Giants won over the Buffalo Bills (20-19) at Tampa Stadium in Florida.
Note: Everybody wanted a copy of Whitney’s Super Bowl showing, so it was made into a recording and was released on her Whitney: The Greatest Hits album. It became a best-seller and the money made was given to charity.
Before you go
We appreciate you reading our post. You might also like to see another on a similar topic related to the America national anthem: is there more than one? Also, we have an article on the most loved patriotic songs of our country. Take a look. We hope you like these.