The 8 most memorable performances of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ of all time

11 February 2022, 12:28

Renée Fleming, Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston perform the US national anthem
Renée Fleming, Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston perform the US national anthem. Picture: All: Alamy

An exposed, range-spanning solo, projected to a stadium of punters and millions at home; ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is no easy feat, even for the most experienced vocalist. Here are the times singers really nailed it.

  1. Renée Fleming – Super Bowl XLVIII (2014)

    One of the few who sang it as close to the original as possible, four-time Grammy-winning soprano Renée Fleming made history by becoming the first opera star to sing ‘The Star Spangled-Banner’ at the Superbowl. Her rendition is simple and powerful, full of gorgeous vibrato and refreshingly free of ornamentation.

    Read more: What are the lyrics to the US national anthem?

    Grammy-winning soprano Renée Fleming takes on the US national anthem
    Grammy-winning soprano Renée Fleming takes on the US national anthem. Picture: Alamy
  2. Lady Gaga – US Presidential Inauguration (2021)

    When Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, Lady Gaga’s voice was there to mark the moment.

    On the day, 20 January 2021, British soprano and much-loved broadcaster Catherine Bott shared her thoughts with Classic FM. “Lady Gaga gave us a final reminder of her mastery of pop style as she sailed aloft to celebrate ‘The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave’ with some Mariah Carey-esque melismas.

    “Gaga put her own unique heart and soul into what an American commentator immediately declared to be ‘a great rendition of our National Anthem’.

    “She was the right choice for today,” Bott concluded.

  3. Jennifer Hudson– Super Bowl XLIII (2009)

    A few years after her incredible Dreamgirls success, Jennifer Hudson gave this absolutely storming performance of the anthem at the 2009 Superbowl. Seemingly effortless in her precision, Hudson rounds off her rendition with a stunning cadenza, culminating in a belted high F.

    Jennifer Hudson brings the house down at Super Bowl XLIII
    Jennifer Hudson brings the house down at Super Bowl XLIII. Picture: Alamy
  4. Joyce DiDonato – World Series (2014)

    As one of the few singers who have braved it a cappella, star American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has to be applauded for her boldness. Her mezzo interpretation of the anthem is refreshingly simple, with ridiculously impressive breath control and a spine-tingling high A flat on the penultimate phrase. Amazing stuff.

  5. Beyoncé – Presidential Inauguration Ceremony (2013)

    There’s nothing quite like Beyoncé’s powerful, elastic voice for opening an international sporting event. Her vocals are so joyful and so exposed that you can’t help but feel a wee bit patriotic. Here she is, giving an impromptu performance at a press conference to prove that OK, although she did lip-sync at Obama’s inauguration, singing live “is what she was born to do”.

    Read more: When Beyoncé sang the national anthem a cappella to combat miming criticism

  6. Whitney Houston – Super Bowl XXV (1991)

    Among the annals of national anthem renditions to open the Superbowl, few have topped Whitney’s spectacular 1991 take. Her performance came at a particularly patriotic time, just after the onset of the Persian Gulf War. It was released as a single, and re-released after the 9/11 attacks. Houston, who did a lot of humanitarian work away from the spotlight, donated all the proceeds to charity.

    Whitney Houston sings the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV
    Whitney Houston sings the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV. Picture: Alamy
  7. Lady Gaga – Super Bowl 50 (2016)

    The 2021 Presidential Inauguration wasn’t Gaga’s first rodeo, when it came to singing her country’s national anthem. Gaga’s 2016 interpretation, noticeably lower than her contemporaries’, started on an F sharp major triad to show off her rich alto tones. In true show-woman style, she also left a dramatic pause before the final fortissimo phrase, taking a moment to relish the audience’s cheers.

  8. Billy Joel – Super Bowl XLI (2007)

    Piano man Billy Joel is one of only two artists – the other being R&B singer Aaron Neville – to perform the national anthem twice at the Super Bowl. Sat at the grand piano under some light drizzle in 2017, Joel brought the sunshine with an impassioned tenor take on ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in his signature raw, melancholy timbre.

    Billy Joel sits at the piano for his Super Bowl 2017 performance
    Billy Joel sits at the piano for his Super Bowl 2017 performance. Picture: Alamy