No pressure, but Sunday’s Super Bowl marked the 30th anniversary of Whitney Houston’s iconic rendition of the National Anthem. And, it happened in Tampa.
How could anyone forget? Houston sang the Star-Spangled Banner for Super Bowl 25 at then-Tampa Stadium, backed by the Florida Orchestra. Houston’s rendition was not only triumphant, breathtaking, free and brave, it reframed the song as one that exists for Black Americans, too.
In this era of rawness and racial reckoning, the oft-troubled NFL brought together two artists from disparate backgrounds as a showcase of solidarity. Jazmine Sullivan, a Black R&B star, and Eric Church, a white country star, teamed up for the first-ever Super Bowl duet of the song. Before the show, both admitted they didn’t know much about the other.
“We definitely come from two totally different, um, everything,” Sullivan told Entertainment Tonight. “But, I’m excited. I think it will be cool to blend the different sounds of music and just show some unity.”
After the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, Church told the Los Angeles Times, “It feels like an important time for a patriotic moment. An important time for unity. The fact that I’m a Caucasian country singer and she’s an African-American R&B singer — I think the country needs that.”
The Houston moment wasn’t lost on Sullivan, who appeared to rehearse in a similar white track suit to the iconic one Houston wore in 1991.
First up at Raymond James Stadium was award-winning singer and songwriter H.E.R., delivering a rendition of America the Beautiful that started sweet and introspective and roared to a finish, showcasing dazzling skills on electric guitar. Rapper Warren “Wawa” Snipe performed alongside H.E.R., Sullivan and Church in American Sign Language.
Then Sullivan and Church stood side-by-side, kicking off a swinging, bluesy arrangement of the anthem, Church clad in nonpartisan purple, Sullivan in all white. They harmonized, fireworks blasting off behind them. Church held the song steady, but he seemed to know it wasn’t his show. It was Sullivan’s voice that soared above it all, climbing the scales victoriously to the apex of those vital words. Free. Brave.
Was it Whitney? No, nothing will ever be. But in this moment, it was a good thing, and something we might talk about in another 30 years.
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