The Two Greatest Renditions of the National Anthem of My Lifetime

The Two Greatest Renditions of the National Anthem of My Lifetime

We’ve all been through a lot; a helluva lot lately. And there is a whole lot more adversity ahead of us, no doubt. However, today, Inauguration Day, is the first step towards the way forward.

It’s morning in America, to quote the famous Ronald Reagan campaign ad, reprised by the Lincoln Project in 2021. From darkness to light, and it all started at noon eastern today. Documentarian Ken Burns say we’re in our fourth major crisis as a nation right now. The Civil War was one, the Great Depression the second and WWII the third. And now our fourth…you don’t know which one, off the top of your head do you? That is the point exactly.

Burns says it’s a combination of three deadly viruses: COVID-19, racism and misinformation.

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I don’t disagree.

In my opinion, disinformation, misinformation, falsehoods, alternative facts- pick your euphemism for outright lies, is our worst problem right now. If we don’t agree on basic truths and simple facts, we won’t be able to do anything, at all, period point blank.

We saw that on January 6. The worst elements of our society, the lowest of the low, stormed the citadel of democracy in the cause of a lie, spurred on by a demagogue. The ugliest underbelly of American society were on the same capitol steps, two weeks ago to the day, as the inauguration proceedings today.

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States at the very same spot where domestic terrorists were running amok exactly two weeks ago. And this event is exactly what fighting terrorism is all about- when you change your plans, the terrorists win.

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When you keep on keeping on, in spite of the threats, you win. But before Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath, Lady Gaga sang the national anthem. And I say this as someone who has never had any interest in purchasing a Gaga song, or going to see her live or anything like that- it was transcendent.

She crushed it. And moved me to tears, especially the part where she pointed at the Stars and Stripes and sang “and our flag was still there.” It both stood in defiance of what happened, and harkened back to Ft. McHenry and the original version of the Star Spangled Banner penned by Francis Scott Key in the early 19th century.

It was a statement to the domestic terrorists that you will not win, you will not co-opt the red, white and blue, you will not redefine and rebrand the flag into your twisted vision. You will not change the meaning of the term “patriot.”

In case you didn’t see her peformance, it is embedded below:

It’s the best rendition I’ve ever seen, and that says a lot, because the national anthem performance that was #1 all time, in my opinion, prior to today is equally legendary. 

Whitney Houston, thirty years ago this month, delivered what is considered by many to be the best take on the national anthem of all time. It came before Super Bowl XXV in 1991 in Tampa, Florida, a match-up between two teams both wearing red, white and blue coincidentally.

It’s an amazing amalgam of superlatives.

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Her one-in-a-million voice, the bare minimum of extraneous notes (like Gaga, it’s the perfect level of added improvisation, without going too lounge singer style “a woo-woo-woo” with it). Her rendition came just after the onset of the first Gulf War, so this came against a backdrop of extreme jingoism.

Her performance was released as a single and then re-released after September 11th. Houston donated all proceeds to charity, and unfortunately, tortured by very self-destructive demons, she left us in early 2012 as the tende age of 49.

But watch below, and enjoy her voice, and also the Florida Orchestra, as it truly all came together here. 

It was also the best and most entertaining Super Bowl game of all time too! Both of these renditions were amazing and goosebumps inducing. I strongly suggest you watch both today, over and over again.

We’ve all earned that treat, having been through all that we have since March 2020; and January 2017.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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