Had it been a fight, Fergie’s performance of the National Anthem at Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game would have been stopped by “the dawn’s early light.”
It seems foolish to get too exercised over this latest Anthem insult. After all, the song itself is, at the least, controversial.
The lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveowner. He was celebrating the failure of the British to conquer Baltimore in the War of 1812.
The words were set To Anacreon in Heaven, an awkward tune appropriate for inebriation, which is how it was usually sung.
Though I’ve always thought it silly to perform it before every sporting event, I remain an Anthem fan. It’s how I was raised. There’s nothing wrong with putting your own spin on the song, if your talent and your heart are in the right places.
Any list of great Anthem performances must include the lengthy but incredibly soulful version by Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.
Fifteen years earlier, Jose’ Feliciano was a little too soulful for the time. His expressive performance at the 1968 World Series resulted in death threats and calls for the Puerto Rican-American singer to be “deported.”
My favorite Anthem performance took place in Portland on April 25, 2003, prior to a NBA Playoff game between the hometown Trailblazers and the Dallas Mavericks.
The scheduled singer that night was 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert who, in true, “the show must go on” fashion, decided to take the mic despite having spent the day in bed with the flu.
In retrospect, that was a mistake. Yet, something wonderful happened.
That Anthem performance shows how things ought to be in America. When we see someone struggling, we should accept the risk that we could look silly and we lend a hand.
It doesn’t matter that Trailblazers coach Mo Cheeks couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He saw a young girl who needed help and stepped in.
That clip gets me, every time. And I’ve watched it a lot.
Sadly, Mo Cheeks wasn’t nearby when a man who pontificates about patriotism drew a blank on the words to the anthem of the country he’s supposed to be leading.
At least Fergie knows the words.
When performed with sincerity, the Anthem can be quite moving.
When things go awry, the Anthem can either give us a window into the heart of those who talk a good game about patriotism but don’t feel it, or it can show us something great about America.
Thank you, Mo Cheeks.
Happy President’s Day.
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One of the most “unorthodox”performances of the Anthem took place at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Former US Airman Jimi Hendrix said he just wanted to share something “beautiful.”
In his stand-up days, Albert Brooks ruminated about the possible rewriting of the National Anthem