Performances and adaptations of The Star-Spangled Banner

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In the course of the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem of the United States, a variety of people have either sung or performed the anthem using a variety of instruments and methods. Some of these methods include using only one instrument, such as a guitar or trumpet. Other methods have included singing the anthem using different vocal ranges or even changing some of the words to show support for a home team or for an event. However, veterans groups have spoken out on occasion about these recordings, mainly calling them disrespectful to the country and to the anthem.


Bing Crosby recorded the song on March 22, 1939 for Decca Records. He also recorded it as a reading of the poem with a musical accompaniment on August 15, 1946.[1]

Igor Stravinsky's first of his four 1941 arrangements of the "Star-Spangled Banner" led to an incident on January 15, 1944 with the Boston police, but "Boston Police Commissioner Thomas F. Sullivan said there would be no action."[2] "After Stravinsky conducted it with the Boston Symphony for the first time in 1944, the police informed the composer of a Massachusetts law against tampering with national property,[3] and removed the parts from Symphony Hall."[4] The incident soon established itself as a myth in which Stravinsky was supposedly arrested for playing the music.[5]

One of the most notable renditions of the anthem was Jimi Hendrix's solo guitar performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival, captured on the documentary film of the event. Hendrix played the anthem with a number of distorted regressions — some mimicking the "rockets" and "bombs" of the anthem's lyrics — to great acclaim from the audience. It was voted 52nd on the list of the 100 greatest guitar solos of all time by readers of Guitar World Magazine. Hendrix also recorded a studio version of The Star-Spangled Banner some time before Woodstock festival. That version features numerous guitar tracks played through octave shifting effects. The studio version is available on the Rainbow Bridge album and Cornerstones collection.

An early controversial version was performed by José Feliciano at the 1968 World Series, a rendition that Feliciano has said negatively affected his career.[2][3] His folk/blues approach did not sit well with everyone, but Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, a musician in his own right, liked it and defended it (as noted in the CD collection, Ernie Harwell's Audio Scrapbook.)

Over the early years of U.S. television broadcasts it became common practice by many stations to close their broadcast day, usually late at night or early in the mornings, by airing the Star Spangled Banner accompanied by some visual image of the flag or some patriotic theme. One audio-visual arrangement in particular, entitled "National Anthem",[6] was produced by a New York-based graphics firm, Saxton Graphic Associates, Ltd. The uncommonly complex and interesting orchestral arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner commences with a trumpet fanfare then the anthem is accompanied by images that illustrate several of the highlights of the history of the United States of America, culminating with an image from 1969 of an Apollo 11 astronaut standing on the Moon by the US flag. Several television stations aired this including WNEW-TV in New York (through 1978), and Washington, D.C. WDVM-TV channel 9. This version was performed by the London Festival Orchestra in 1963, and arranged and conducted by Bob Sharples; it can be found on the album America on the Move.[7]

Anthem singer John Amirante sang a stirring rendition of the Canadian and American national anthems before the Rangers win over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.[8] The National Hockey League requires arenas in both the U.S. and Canada to perform both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada" (Canadian national anthem) at games that involve teams from both countries, a practice that has also been picked up by Major League Baseball.[9] However, from 1997, when interleague play began in baseball until 2004 when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, only the Canadian anthem would be played at games between the Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays. One exception to this came in 2004, when three Expos "home" games were played in San Juan, Puerto Rico (a commonwealth of the United States). At those games, both the American and Canadian national anthems were played, as was La Borinqueña (the commonwealth anthem of Puerto Rico).[10] Five years later, when Wayne Gretzky played his final game, Amirante changed the line of "O'er the land of the free" to "O'er the land of Wayne Gretzky" to reflect Gretzky's retirement.[8]

Robert Merrill sang the national anthem at seven World Series games, more than any other performer, and all seven came at Yankee Stadium: in Game 3 of the 1976, 1978, and 1999 World Series, at the 1977, 1981 and 1996 World Series openers, and Game 2 of the 1998 World Series.

Allusions to the tune appear in a number of classical works. For example, Richard Wagner's "American Centennial March", commissioned for the centennial of U.S. independence in 1876, appears to repeatedly quote part of the theme. Sergei Rachmaninoff arranged it for solo piano. The beginning of the song is also used in the beginning of the march titled "National Emblem". Giacomo Puccini used the opening notes as a motif throughout his opera Madama Butterfly. "The Pneu World" for cello and piano, H.163 (1925) by Frank Bridge is a parody on the opening bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner".[11] The tune is the basis of the tone poem Homage for Orchestra Op. 31 by James Cohn.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's recorded version solved the range problem as any mixed choir might—with the male voices carrying the main melody in the lower part of the range, and the female voices carrying the upper part of the range while the male voices provide lower-keyed harmony. The MTC version also contains a rare singing of the fourth verse, in addition to the first.

Composer John Williams wrote two new arrangements, one for the 2003 Rose Bowl and the other for the opening game of the 2007 World Series.

Beyoncé Knowles performed the anthem at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 at Reliant Stadium, in Houston in February 1, 2004. The song entered the U.S. Hot Digital Tracks chart at No. 37.[12]

R. Kelly performed the anthem with a soul arrangement at the 2005 boxing match Bernard Hopkins vs. Jermain Taylor.[13] The performance caused some controversy, as it was accompanied by step dancers and he told the audience to "clap your hands, y'all" (like in a concert) during the anthem.[14][15]

Three versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" have made the Hot Country Songs charts. The first was an a cappella version by Ricochet, recorded for the Columbia Records album NASCAR: Hotter than Asphalt,[16] which charted at number 58 in July 1996.[17] Faith Hill's version, recorded at the 2000 Super Bowl, reached number 35 on the same chart, and number 18 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles in September 2001.[18] A 2012 rendition by The Band Perry charted at number 59.

After the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Lady Gaga performed the anthem at New York City's gay pride parade, changing the last word to "gay".

Notable errors, changed or forgotten lyrics[edit]

Perhaps the most notorious rendition of the national anthem came from comedian Roseanne Barr, who sang it at a San Diego Padres baseball game in July 1990. As her voice was not well liked by the audience, because either she has little singing ability or because she purposefully botched the performance, the large crowd heckled her and threw objects onto the field in her direction in disgust. Her poor performance might have been forgotten, except that she appended a couple of gestures associated with baseball players (adjusting one's protective cup and spitting on the ground), which drew widespread complaints, including from then-President George H.W. Bush. She has not been asked to sing again at a baseball game since.[19] Twenty-two years later, during Roseanne's Comedy Central Roast, she closed her routine by singing the lines of the anthem that were not sung during the infamous performance.[20]

At the 1989 World Series opener, after singing "that our flag was", the Yale Whiffenpoofs sang "still there" twice, in the process omitting the second "Oh". Until that point, several of the Whiffenpoofs sang the National Anthem while the other members backed them up by singing "America the Beautiful."[21]

In 1993, Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis attempted to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a New Jersey Nets game. Lewis sang the entire song off-key and at a range too high for his voice. After his voice broke on the word "glare", he stopped and said "Uh oh", then said "I'll make up for it now" near the end of the song. He was widely ridiculed for the incident. ESPN SportsCenter anchor Charley Steiner described Lewis' version of the national anthem as being written by "Francis Scott Off-Key".[22]

At the 2001 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, Macy Gray was booed after stumbling over the words, and singing offbeat.[23]

When performing the anthem before a game in the 2003 American League Championship Series at Fenway Park, singer Michael Bolton briefly forgot the lyrics and had to look at his hand, where he had apparently written them down for reference.[24]

On April 25, 2003, during an NBA playoff game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks, Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks aided 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert in singing the national anthem. After Gilbert forgot the words of "At the twilight's last gleaming", Cheeks rushed over to help her and they finished it together, as the entire Rose Garden Arena crowd sang with them. Cheeks and Gilbert received a standing ovation after the song was over.[25][26]

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was invited to sing the national anthem at the 2001 Indianapolis 500. His performance, however, was widely criticised when after singing "free" he sang some kind of phrase leading into "bam-de-la-bam-bam", and also he changed the lyrics of the last line from "...the home of the brave" to "the home of the Indianapolis 500."[27][28] Tyler messed up on singing the anthem again at the 2012 AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens.[29]

Robert Goulet forgot the lyrics when invited to sing the anthem before one of Muhammad Ali's championship bouts in the 1960s.[19] He was often chided for this, usually by people who were not aware that he was Canadian by birth.

In 2002, pop-singer Anastacia sang the national anthem before the 2002 MLB All-Star Game In it, she sang "perilous night" instead of "perilous fight". This was the first in a long line of debacles that night after all of which the game ended in a 7-7 tie in 11 innings.

In a 2005 hockey exhibition game at Quebec City, Caroline Marcil, daughter of a past Hockey Québec president, forgot the words to the anthem, left to get printed lyrics, and as she returned slipped on the ice and fell. Marcil was later invited to explain herself at Good Morning America, where she performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" correctly.[30][31]

René Marie substituted the anthem's lyrics with those of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at a Denver civic event in 2008.[32]

Anita Baker was criticized for her performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at Game 4 of the 2010 NBA Finals.[33]

Pop singer Christina Aguilera sang the national anthem at Super Bowl XLV in February 2011 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, and changed the lyrics of the fourth line from "o'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming" to the alteration of the second line "what so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming" while she sang the anthem at the Super Bowl. She later apologized, saying that "I got so lost in the moment of the song that I lost my place."[34][35]

At the December 5, 2010 NFL game between the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs, the Eli Young Band sung the national anthem. After messing up the lyrics on the 2nd line of the song, they were met with boos. They started over and sang the lyrics correctly.

During Game 5 of the 2014 World Series, Staind lead singer Aaron Lewis reportedly butchered the national anthem.[36]

During the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, Fergie performed what was considered the worst rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" in recent memory.[37]

Whitney Houston version (Super Bowl XXV)[edit]

"The Star Spangled Banner" became a charity single recorded by Pop/R&B singer Whitney Houston and produced by music director Rickey Minor, along with Houston herself, to raise funds for soldiers and families of those involved in the Persian Gulf War. Houston performed "The Star Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. The recording of her live performance was released as a single in the U.S. on February 12, 1991 and as the Gulf War was drawing to a close, and it peaked at number twenty on the Billboard Hot 100. Its B-side was "America the Beautiful". The single's video comprises footage from the recording of Houston's performance at the Super Bowl in 1991.

The song would not be released elsewhere until it appeared on Whitney: The Greatest Hits in 2000. It was later released in digital form, having seen increased sales in the aftermath of Houston's death on February 11, 2012.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Arista Records arranged a re-release of Houston's version of "The Star Spangled Banner" (again with "America the Beautiful" as the B-side), with all profits going towards the firefighters and victims of the attacks. It peaked at number six on the Hot 100 and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

The two single releases of Houston's version are the only times the anthem has ever appeared on the Top 40 of Billboard's Hot 100 pop singles chart. José Feliciano's 1968 rendition was released as a single after his performance, peaking at #50 on the Billboard Hot 100 late in 1968.


Country Certification Sales/Shipment
United States Platinum[38] 1,000,000

Other Super Bowl performances[edit]

Houston's performance of the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXV had long stood as the definitive, until 23 years later when soprano Renee Fleming made broadcast history as the first opera performer to sing the Anthem at a Super Bowl.[39] Her emotional performance at Super Bowl XLVIII helped give the Fox Network the highest ratings of any program in its 26-year history,[40] and it still stands today as the second-highest-rated U.S. television program of all time.[41]


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  14. ^ The meaning of patriotism, ESPN Page 2.
  15. ^ "Oh say have you seen…R. Kelly's national anthem?".
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  18. ^ Whitburn, p. 189
  19. ^ a b Wolf, Buck (May 2, 2006). "Oh Say, Can't You Sing: Celebs Who Tortured the National Anthem: From Rosanne to Jimi Hendrix, 'The Star Spangled Banner' Sometimes Gets Mangled". ABC News.
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  38. ^ Certification Date 3 October 2001
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