The Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy in the Baltimore Harbor. The song became our National Anthem in 1931, and is well-known for its difficulty as a vocal piece.
Michael Dean, Music Chair and director of vocal studies at UCLA, said, “The song is difficult, even for the most trained singer because it calls for an enormous vocal range, including the ability to sing a vowel on the highest note of the piece — on “free” — which physically strains the throat. [The song] goes from the lowest extreme of the voice to the highest extreme of the voice.”
Here are some of the most memorable National Anthem Performances:
One: Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock
One of the most iconic renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner was played by Jimi Hendrix as a guitar solo at Woodstock in the early morning on August 18, 1969. Hendrix was the final act at the festival and he performed the National Anthem as a 5 minute solo in the middle of a 30-minute set that included Purple Haze and Voodoo Child. Many criticized his version of the Anthem as simply “noise,” while others praised it as “emblematic not only of Woodstock, but of the 1960s themselves.” Hendrix served in the U.S. Army in the 101st Airborne from 1961-62.
Two: Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV
As far as a pure vocal performance of the National Anthem, many believe that Whitney Houston’s singing of the anthem at Super Bowl XXV in Tampa in 1991 is the gold standard. The Persian Gulf War was just beginning and patriotic feeling ran high. Her performance was released as a single and then re-released after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Three: Renée Fleming at Super Bowl XLVIII
For a traditional version of the Anthem, there may not be any better than opera star Renée Fleming singing it at Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. She was backed by the Armed Forces Chorus at the Meadowlands outside New York.
Four: Lady Gaga at Super Bowl 50
Lady Gaga offered this unexpectedly heartfelt performance of the Anthem at Super Bowl 50 in 2016 in Levi Stadium in California. Her rendition had many saying it was the best since Whitney Houston’s in 1991.
Five: Beyonce at Super Bowl 2004
Beyonce Knowles’ singing of the Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2004 in Houston showcased her flawless vocal execution and the rising octave on the final note that is considered unmatched.
Six: P!nk Super Bowl LII
Pink National Anthem: On the eve of her big game performance, Pink revealed she had come down with the flu. “Trying to practice the flu away,” Pink wrote on Instagram. “I’ve been waiting to sing this song [“The Star Spangled Banner”] since 1991 when I saw my idol, Whitney Houston, own this song. And now, my chance has finally come.
Seven: Lexi Walker
Some of the most touching performances of our National Anthem have been given by children. Eleven-year-old Lexi Walker sang the Anthem in on July 4, 2013, at the Stadium of Fire event in Provo, Utah, complete with fireworks and a flyover.
Eight: Marc Anthony at the 2011 NBA Finals
One of the best male performances of the Star-Spangled Banner came in 2011 by Marc Anthony during the NBA Finals. Viewers were impressed by his true rendering of the song, saying that he sang it “the way it’s supposed to be sung, simply yet powerfully without too many vocal embellishments or excessive personal flair.”
Nine: 2014 Toronto Maple Leafs Game
It is often the unplanned that brings the most moving tributes and the 2014 Toronto Maple Leafs game against at American Team resulted in one such event. The performer’s microphone went dead shortly after she started singing, so both teams on the ice as well as a packed arena took over and finished a rousing version of the US National Anthem. Kudos to our neighbors to the north!
Ten: US National Anthem by the Academy Choirs
The combined choirs of the US military academies, accompanied by the US Army Herald Trumpets, gave a moving rendition of our Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2005.
The National Anthem is sung thousands of times each year at events of all kinds. No matter how well it is performed or even if there are miscues during the song, its purpose of uniting Americans is always achieved.