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Diana Ross was the first pop star to perform the national anthem at a Super Bowl, and her 1982 performance set a standard not yet surpassed at any professional sports venue. From high school to professional sports events, Americans have long started these secular public rites with our national anthem. The NFL had long leaned on college marching bands and choruses, but broke from tradition with a pop star actually past the peak of her genre. Diana Ross, Motown royalty, rose to the occasion in Detroit’s Silverdome Stadium, setting the standard for future performers.
There are three basic rules for a good national anthem vocal performance:
- Get the lyrics right
- Stay on tune
- It ain’t about you; points off for stylizing in most forums
Diana Ross knocked all of these out of the stadium, and she did it without a net. She sang unaccompanied and without auto-tune correcting her pitch. She knew the words by heart, to the level of not stumbling in front of a large live and nationally televised audience.
Listen to the beginning. She gives a brief introduction, inviting the live audience and players to sing with her.
Can we sing, our national anthem, with authority?
Sing with me.
Diana Ross then makes a short gesture with her microphone that cues a pianist, off-screen, to give her the first note. Just the first note, mind you. Then she launches into a completely straightforward rendition, without any of her craft’s signature vocal ornamentation. The audience responds by listening in silence and then singing along with Miss Diana Ross. You see some of the very rough-looking football players of the era joining in towards the end.
There have been any good and bad, great and occasionally ghastly performances.* Yes, Whitney Houston gave an amazing dramatic performance at Super Bowl XXV, but I stand by my claim that Motown star Diana Ross set the gold standard for all professional sports venue performances of the Star-Spangled Banner back at Super Bowl XVI, in the Motor City.
What say you?
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* Honorable Mention to Demi Lovato for getting the lyrics right, singing on tune (with autotune assumed), and not significantly stylizing after her platinum album achievement.Published in