We’ve also seen the hundreds of times the two-minute album. In the course of the years, we’ve even shielded our hearts with our hands and belted the song ourselves over time— over college, at tournaments, even in moments of protest. But nobody can sing “The Star Spangled Banner” like Whitney Houston, and I say nothing. And her famous version in Tampa, Florida, in 1991, during Super Bowl XXV, is one that cannot be bested. And many have tried.
Though influenced by the 1983 interpretation of Marvin Gaye — a super-soulful performance he performed during the NBA All-Star Game in Inglewood, California — we can’t help but compare the national anthem iteration of everybody to what is now recognized as Thee Norm. Houston’s version was so nice, it became the fastest-selling single for Arista Music when they released it later. It was 27 January 1991, and Houston figured it would be sunny and warm.
And, according to her then-best friend Robin Crawford, who wrote about the now-iconic scene in her autobiography, A Song for You, she’d prepared a sleeveless black cocktail dress for the occasion. But when the temperatures had fallen and the clouds rolled in, Houston stepped on the field instead, wearing a white tracksuit from Le Coq Sportif and similar shoes from Nike Cortez. She gave a friendly smile, and fluffed one side of her head.
Maybe the Grammy Award-winning singer who dyed her hair and made up herself wanted to make sure she looked right before she disrespected the microphone entirely. The nameless announcer boomed into the microphone, And now to honor America, particularly the valiant men and women who serve our country in the Persian Gulf and around the globe, participate in the singing of our nation’s anthem
It wasn’t just that Houston sang that song in a way that had never before been sung, but that our country needed something — a balm at the start of a new fight. In early 1991 U.S. troops had just been sent to Saudi Arabia after Iraqi chief Saddam Hussein tried to take Kuwait the year before. Backed by the Florida Ensemble, led by the conductor Jahja Ling, there was no room for Houston to put on a performance.
She actually put her hands behind her back before the first stanza even begins. When the song started to depict the wide stripes and bright stars of our flag, verses written by the author Francis Scott Key, Houston launched into her trademark falsetto, replacing such a heavy moment with an airy lightness. It would make that much more impactful the moment when Houston belted out and the rockets gleam red with her full voice. She understood what they were doing.