No one, and I do mean no one, has ever sung “The Star Spangled Banner” like Whitney Houston. Although there have been plenty of beautiful renditions over the years, Whitney’s national anthem stands out as the gold standard we all keep going back to.
In fact, Whitney’s National Anthem is now known as “Thee Standard.”
In light of the recent backlash singer Chaka Khan received over her performance of this beloved song at the 2020 NBA All-Star game, we thought it would be a good time to revisit Whitney’s version.
Whitney Houston “The Star Spangled Banner”
Most of us have heard the two-minute-long “The Star Spangled Banner” hundreds of times in our lifetimes. From elementary school onward, we have soberly listened to it, singing along as we stand with our hands over our hearts.
However, at the 1991 Super Bowl, Whitney Houston turned our beautiful but unremarkable national anthem into something magical. Watch it below.
Be sure to keep reading after the video for some background information about Whitney’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Behind the Scenes of Whitney Houston Singing “The Star Spangled Banner”
To prepare to sing the National Anthem, Whitney Houston says she was inspired by Marvin Gaye. In 1983, Marvin sang a super-soulful rendition at the NBA All-Star game.
To be fair, Marvin put a bit of spin on the National Anthem as Chaka Khan did (see below), and I don’t love his version. I’m just saying that Whitney apparently got some inspiration from Marvin.
On the day of the Super Bowl where Whitney was set to perform “The Star Spangled Banner,” she expected the day to be warm and sunny. Consequently, for clothing, she packed a sleeveless black cocktail dress. However, the temperature took an unexpected dip. As a result, Whitney was forced to don a white Le Coq Sportif tracksuit, complete with matching Nike Cortez sneakers. Whitney did her own hair and makeup as she always did.
It couldn’t have been more perfect. The whole look, including the headband she used to hold her hair in place, was perfect.
Whitney Houston’s Performance of the National Anthem
The nameless announcer’s voice could be heard booming into the microphone.
“And now to honor America, especially the brave men and women serving our nation in the Persian Gulf and throughout the world, please join in the singing of our national anthem.”
See, we had just entered the war in the Persian Gulf 10 days before. Our country and its people just needed something.
Backed by the Florida Orchestra, Whitney’s goal wasn’t to put on a show. It wasn’t about her and she didn’t make it about her. She put her hands behind her back before she even finished the first stanza.
After going into her signature falsetto for the part of “broad stripes and bright stars,” Whitney belted out “and the rockets red glare” and it was positively triumphant and we were taken along on the emotional tide that she created for us.
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) February 8, 2016
At the end, she raised her arms into the air as she held out the word “brave” for what was for her an effortless eight seconds.
Whitney transformed “The Star Spangled Banner” into a beacon of hope, and one we needed. It felt patriotic and we needed that.
The Release of the Single
After recording “The Star Spangled Banner,” Whitney Houston released it as a single. Proceeds from the recording went to soldiers and families involved in the Persian Gulf War.
After the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Arista Records released Whitney’s version again. Once again, Whitney donated her share of the royalties (Arista did, too). The money went to the victims and firefighters of the terrorist attacks on our country.
During the 2011 release, the RIAA certified the single platinum by the RIAA and it peaked at number six on the U.S. Hot 100 chart.
In the end, Whitney Houston’s recording of “The Star Spangled Banner” was the first recording of the national anthem to reach the Top 10 in the U.S. and be certified platinum.
Chaka Khan “The Star Spangled Banner”
As some of the commenters on YouTube said, we love Chaka Khan. However, she really killed “The Star Spangled Banner.” As in, killed it and buried it.
— Jermaine (@JermaineWatkins) February 17, 2020
Here’s the thing: no one likes it when artists jack around with “The Star Spangled Banner.” People don’t like for artists to put their own spin on this song. They just don’t.
To be honest, I couldn’t even get through all of it. But I do still love you, Chaka!
Chaka Khan appreciation tweet. pic.twitter.com/XSdzRGlKJR
— ᴅᴏʟʟᴀʀ (@callmedollar) February 17, 2020
Featured image: Wikipedia