I have a suggestion for organizers of the Super Bowl and other major sporting events: stop asking these self-absorbed, musically challenged vocal celebrities to sing our National Anthem. I don’t know about others, but I am tired of hearing the Star Spangled Banner disrespected by being performed as a rap, country, soul, pop, or rock song. Granted, the song composed by Francis Scott Key is difficult to sing. To sing the Anthem properly requires more range than most vocalists can manage. Consequently, those invited to sing our National Anthem at the Super Bowl and other sports events tend to compensate for their lack of vocal range by adding style. Let me state here and now, clearly and unequivocally that the Star Spangled Banner was not written to be stylistically interpreted. It should be performed the way it was written. What should be brought to the performance by the vocal artist is dignity, respect, and an appropriate sense of reverence.
Apparently I am not the only American who is tired of hearing the Star Spangled Banner interpreted. I recently received one of those emails that circulates from time to time that contained comments on this issue made by a Marine Colonel deployed to Afghanistan. The Colonel said: “…I give this one piece of advice to the next pop star who is asked to sing the National Anthem at a sporting event: save the vocal gymnastics and the physical gyrations for your concerts. Just sing this song the way you were taught to sing it in kindergarten—straight up, no styling. Sing it with the constant awareness that that there are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines watching you from bases and outposts all over the world. Don’t make them cringe with your self-centered ego gratification. Sing it as if you are standing before a row of 86-year-old WWII vets wearing their Purple Hearts, Silver Stars and flag pins on their cardigans and you want them to be proud of you for honoring them and the country they love—not because you want them to think you are a superstar musician. Sing the Star Spangled Banner with the courtesy and humility that tells the audience it’s about America, not about you.” Thank you Colonel. I could not have said it better. Semper Fi.
This Marine Colonel serving in Afghanistan put his finger on the biggest problem with asking musical celebrities to sing our National Anthem at sporting events. The Anthem was written in a time of crisis to bring hope to Americans and to honor our budding nation. But we have devolved since that time into such a vapid, shallow, self-promoting society that vocalists invited to sing the Star Spangled Banner often view the event as an opportunity for marketing their brand and showcasing their musical genre. Somehow I cannot see Francis Scott Key taking a selfie of himself while writing what became our National Anthem even if the technology had been available at the time. The song he wrote was about American, not him.
As the Colonel said, with too many of the musical artists invited to sing the National Anthem, it’s about them, not America or those who serve America in uniform. The irony in the narcissistic, self-serving approach of these performers was also touched on in the Colonel’s comments. The singer performing the Anthem in his or her own way for his or her own benefit is being viewed by military personnel who are putting their lives on the line every day in hot spots around the globe. When a performer dishonors the National Anthem by turning it into a pop, rock, rap, soul, or country song, complete with gyrations and attitude, he or she also dishonors America’s warriors in uniform and the country they are putting their lives on the line to protect.
I would like to suggest some guidelines for choosing those who will be invited to sing our National Anthem in the future. First, make it known that the song is to be performed as it was written. Second, insist that it be performed in an attitude of dignity and respect. Third, tell performers to stand at the microphone and sing. Insist that they save their physical gyrations for another venue. Fourth, make it clear that if the celebrity vocalist does not have the range, ability, and willingness to sing the Star Spangled Banner the way it was written, he or she should say “Thanks but no thanks.” Finally, make sure those who plan to sing the National Anthem understand that it is about honoring America and those who serve our country. It is not about promoting their careers, marketing their brand, or increasing their visibility.