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The National Anthem—Style Over Substance

In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about the differences between the National Anthem Committee (NAC) adopted protocol for the National Anthem, and the law subsequently passed by Congress  a few months later. The differences are striking and if you missed it, stop and go read it.

Style over substance is the topic de jour—looking at the current trend of performers and their renditions. Here is part of The Code for the National Anthem of the United States of America adopted by the National Anthem committee in April of 1942.

… Since the message of the music is greatly heightened by the text, it is of paramount importance that emphasis be placed upon the singing of the National Anthem.

… It is inappropriate to make or use sophisticated "concert" versions of the National Anthem.

…The slighting of note values in the playing or singing of the National Anthem will seriously impair the beauty and effectiveness of both the music and lyric.

The NAC took the National Anthem very seriously and their document contained language to deter any symphonic changes to the music, in either melody or performance. I shudder to think what members of the committee would think of today’s performances that are so far from the original that the audience might have trouble recognizing the melody.

Stars and the National Anthem

Inviting a famous star to perform the National Anthem isn’t new. In 1968 Jose’ Feliciano was invited to sing before Game 5 of the World Series between Detroit and St. Louis. Although his performance was from his heart, the bluesy guitar-accompanied rendition of the National Anthem nearly killed his career.

Changing Attitudes

How attitudes have changed.  Since then many famous personalities have sung the National Anthem before sporting events, with two coming to mind immediately. The first—Roseanne Barr, the second was Whitney Houston. Roseanne’s comedy version is available if you really want to view it, but I advise against it. I want to focus on Whitney’s version for a moment.

After you get the lump our of your throat, let’s move on. I’ll tell you exactly what made Whitney’s version so powerful—she was accompanied by an orchestra. The tempo was set and the audience could sing along with them in our National Anthem. In fact, at the beginning of the video, you can hear the announcer ask the audience to join in singing the anthem.

Now, I want to look at another rendition of the anthem.

Did you try to sing along with Destiny’s Child? If you did, I hope you didn’t hurt yourself. Since they sang a cappella, there are no boundaries requiring their attention. They didn’t have to sing a single note contained in the melody line or hold to any tempo. While it sounded beautiful, it was all about THEIR PERFORMANCE, not the National Anthem. It was almost unrecognizable as the National Anthem, and it was all about THEM.

Today’s society is changing in many ways, and not all of them are good. We will spend millions of dollars preserving old buildings and works of art, but when it comes to following the U.S. Flag Code or the National Anthem protocol, we feel free to do what we want.

The National Anthem protocol is similar to the U.S. Flag Code in that it is a law of honor. Since there aren’t any Flag Code or National Anthem police, we are on our own to obey and respect.

1 thought on “The National Anthem—Style Over Substance

  1. Larry, I’ve often commented to my wife that stars butcher the national anthem when they jazz it up and sing it their own way. Thanx for the Whitney Houston video — it was touching.

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