Don't Embellish
the National Anthem

by Scott Iwasaki
music editor
Deseret News

Last Tuesday marked the three-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

As a tribute to the victims and heroes of that tragedy, the radio station my wife and I listen to while driving to work played Whitney Houston's 1990 version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

What a wonderful rendition of that patriotic song. Why? Because Houston didn't drastically change any of the arrangement. Her delivery was straightforward and followed each original note, and she paused when the song called for a pause.

Houston even sang the correct notation on the line " . . . Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave . . ." You know, the "banner" part where almost everyone holds the "ba" when the note lands on "nner."

I bring this up because, these days, it seems every singer tries to put his or her own spin on our national anthem. And most of the time, it's distracting — and sometimes, it's downright disrespectful.

I've heard many people sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" live, on TV and on film. Everyone from Glen Campbell to Boyz II Men to Styx's Tommy Shaw to Roseanne to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir . . . and many more.

During the past few years, it seems that everyone has tried to use the song as a grandstand for vocal gymnastics.

For example, a concert I attended a few weeks ago featured a singer who paused at the wrong times and tried to show off her talent. She might have had a good voice, but she tried to emulate Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey. The singer held notes and added melodramatic pauses that immediately turned off a lot of people.

It was extremely self-serving. The national anthem shouldn't be treated like a Broadway audition; it should be sung with respect.

While this country is based on freedom of expression, we should remember it comes with responsibility and, again, respect.

I don't think Francis Scott Key meant "The Star-Spangled Banner" to be a pop song, a rock song or a screaming gospel showcase. And to tell you the truth, it doesn't have to be.

I wish I could go to or watch on TV a sporting event where I could hear a straightforward rendition of that mighty work. In fact, the best I've heard so far was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's version at this year's Utah Jazz season-opener.

Now if all those voices can do the song justice, why can't one solo voice sing it right?

Home / Of General Interest / Words About Music