If anybody can actually roll over in their grave, I’d bet good money it’s Francis Scott Key.
Every weekend, all across the country and presumably wherever Americans gather around the globe, somebody skewers the National Anthem. How many of you remember Rosanne Barr and her public defacing of The Star Spangled Banner? From county fairs to any sporting event under the sun, there is a significant chance that someone is doing their best to make a mockery of a beautiful song.
In an era well before the invention of Ella Fitzgerald-esque scatting and Mariah Carey-esque vocal runs, Key’s poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” was set to the tune of a British drinking song (of all things). It was 1812 and war was raging. I imagine his desire was to pen something emotional and deeply personal, and the resulting combination of his words and the infectious British tune, quickly became the song of our nation. Instead of cannon balls and other assorted ammunition exploding above us, each weekend spectators at NASCAR races and baseball games are bombarded with ‘Experiments in Song’.
Like her or not, Whitney Houston (Bobby!) will be forever associated with the most stirring and passionate rendition ever heard. Name another artist whose version of The Star Spangled Banner ran up the music charts and stayed there for weeks. I didn’t think so. I can still remember when Whitney (Crack Is Whack!) performed during the 1991 Super Bowl, and I am still in love with her performance to this day. She knew how to do it. She knew how to push the limit of her voice and our collective appreciation of her talent to ensure that nobody would soon forget how our National Anthem is supposed to be sung.
Today at the NASCAR race in Kansas, some up-and-coming country artist virtually gave himself a hernia trying to belt out too many notes, too close in succession, too slowly at times, and too quickly at others. It ain’t jazz. No free expression here, please. Tap your foot to keep time, write the words on your hand if you must, and close your eyes if you think the size of the crowd will intimidate you.
With a nod to Jimmy Hendrix as he closed Woodstock, the instrumental recordings at the Olympics, and my own performance at a Varsity basketball game during my senior year at Jesse O. Sanderson High School (Go Spartans!), I beg anyone who has designs on flexing their golden pipes to think twice about trying to impress us. Just sing the song.
Francis will thank you.