Performing the National Anthem: It’s all in the Interpretation

national anthem - american flag in sunlightOn my way home from work yesterday, I caught part of a call-in radio talk show.  The hot topic was the performance of the National Anthem by rock band Madison Rising at the recent NASCAR Nationwide Series event in Daytona, Florida.  The band gave a rocked-out performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” complete with heavy doses of lyrical riffs, electric guitars, and drums. Needless to say, those calling into the radio show were on every possible side of the fence, and the comments ranged from “disgraceful” and “disrespectful” to “hey, it’s a free country and they can do it however they want.”  Here’s a video of Madison Rising’s NASCAR performance.  You decide.

There’s no question that our National Anthem is one of the most difficult to sing.  There’s also no question that most folks like to hear songs performed the way they’re used to hearing them, and don’t always appreciate an unfamiliar or stylized version of an old standard.

Over the years, I can recall some wildly different versions of the National Anthem that caught the attention of the public – some positively, some negatively.  Here are a few you might remember…

Jimi Hendrix – Woodstock Music Festival, 1969

Hendrix was widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music.  During the final set at Woodstock, Jimi let loose with a rendition that’s been called everything from “the most important political rock statement of the 1960s,” to “an afterthought caught in one of Hendrix’s worst performances.”

Roseanne Barr – San Diego Padres vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1990

This was probably one of the most controversial versions that I can remember.  Roseanne tried to add her own brand of humor to the singing of the National Anthem, initially claiming she had trouble hearing herself over the P-A system.  After screeching through an off-key version of the song, she added some clichéd baseball humor by mimicking the often-seen (and sometimes questionable) actions of players.  (Sorry, the video version of Roseanne’s performance is a little too family-“un”friendly for this blog.)

Whitney Houston – Super Bowl XXV, 1991

During the Persian Gulf War, Whitney sang an incredible, flawless, rousing rendition of the song.  To this day, it’s widely considered one of the best performances ever of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  If you had the opportunity to see this performance when it aired live, you know you were a part of something truly special.