“The Star-Spangled Banner” is notoriously hard to sing, but these stars nailed it. Which is your favorite?
Beyoncé Knowles, 2013
Beyoncé Knowles’ dynamic performance of the anthem at President Obama’s 2013 inauguration, with its extra-high note in the song’s final line, paid tribute to one of Knowles’ predecessors, singer Whitney Houston.
Whitney Houston, 1991
At the time of the 1991 Super Bowl, when Whitney Houston sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” — with a flourish on the high note of “land of the free” that propelled it even higher — America was in the middle of the Gulf War, and she dedicated her performance to the country’s military. It became a hit when it was released as a single a few weeks later and was even more successful when re-released a decade later, with proceeds to benefit New York firefighters and police after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Marvin Gaye, 1983
Marvin Gaye’s slow, spectral, gospel-tinged rendition performed at the 1983 National Basketball Association All-Star Game, accompanied by a drum machine, made the song sound shockingly modern. Former Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson said Gaye’s performance gave him a feeling of “pride at being an American. … You almost cried, it was so devastating.”
Jimi Hendrix, 1969
Jimi Hendrix famously performed his rendition of the anthem at the 1969 Woodstock music festival as a protest against the Vietnam War. Complete with “bombing” sound effects, it is the best-known radical reworking of the anthem.
José Feliciano, 1968
At the 1968 Major League Baseball World Series, Puerto Rican singer José Feliciano performed the anthem in the style of a contemporary folk-pop song, accompanied by acoustic guitar. It caused a flurry of controversy: “Some people wanted me deported,” he later said, “as if you can be deported to Puerto Rico.” (Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.)
This is adapted from an article by freelance writer Douglas Wolk.