When Christina Aguilera goofed in her singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” prior to Super Bowl XLV earlier this month, it created quite a stir.
Exciting as the game itself turned out to be, what may be remembered the most about that game are the unusual problems, not only with the words of our national anthem, but the 400 people who had to stand not only for “The Star Spangled Banner,” but for the entire game because somehow the Dallas Cowboys and the city of Arlington had not cleared that number of seats as meeting safety standards.
Of course it wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time that singers have repeated, or omitted or even “ad-libbed” the words of our national anthem, presumably by mistake.
And this also was not the first time that there were problems with the singing of the anthem at a sporting event. Who can forget the screeching version of Roseanne Barr in San Diego in 1990? Certainly not anyone who heard it live or on tape. Imagine if they had had YouTube then?
Perhaps it is because it is “noted” as a difficult anthem to sing, that there have been so many “off key” renditions — some maybe even intentional.
But these have been few in comparison to the many thrilling and magnificent renditions I have heard.
Years ago there were mutterings that we should revert to “My Country Tis of Thee” which is played and sung to the same melody as the British anthem “God Save the Queen” — or King when the monarch is a male. I wonder if they’ll liven it up when Prince William succeeds to the throne.
But for all of its foibles and problems, “The Star Spangled Banner” is, in my opinion, a majestic and moving song and ideal to be our national anthem.
The words not only are powerful and vivid in their description of one of the more significant battles for survival in our history, but the melody — taken from an old English drinking song — is inspiring as well.
Just think, our anthem might have been sung to the melody of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” or some other such rowdy music if we had been forced to use an old American drinking song.
Or we could have been singing to the melody of “La Marseillaise” if the French had won the French and Indian War prior to our War of Independence.
I know we all have had our own special Star Spangled moments, times when we swelled with pride when we stood as our national anthem was played.
I will never forget Whitney Huston’s unbelievably beautiful and stirring rendition in Tampa at the Super Bowl in 1991 during Desert Storm and the first Gulf War.
Nor will I forget when it was sung by one of New York City’s finest, a police department sergeant, at the first baseball game played at Shea Stadium in New York after 9/11. How appropriate.
And I certainly haven’t forgotten the Sunday after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 when, after some controversy, then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle allowed a full slate of games to be played. I was at Yankee Stadium and I can tell you there was a pall over the stadium that was broken by patriotic cheers at the playing of our national anthem.
But not all my Star Spangled memories were associated with sporting events.
Many were in conjunction with my international travels for my company.
I have stood at attention when our anthem was played in my honor in such disparate countries as China and Malaysia and in the Union of South Africa. At almost everyone of these I shed a tear or two or three in pride for my country.
But never was I moved as much as I was two or three years ago when we visited the impressive “new” American History Museum in Washington. This is the home — the resting place if you will — of “The Star Spangled Banner,” itself, tattered and torn though it may be.
As we entered the exhibit I could hear the strains of the anthem and it seemed to get louder as we continued past the photos of the battle at Fort McHenry depicting the action till we arrived at Old Glory, itself — or what is left of it. It is not only age that has contributed to its deterioration. I learned that people had been given, or perhaps taken or purchased small patches as souvenirs of the occasion as the flag made its way from city to city so many years ago.
Regardless, as George M. Cohan put it in words and song, “It’s a Grand Old Flag” and the “Star Spangled Banner” is a grand old song as well.