Though the words were written in 1814, “The Star-Spangled Banner” did not become the official national anthem of the United States until 1931. Regardless, Americans have and continue to lift their voices to sing the epic anthem to celebrate and mark the most iconic events in the nation’s history.
We wanted to round-up some of the most memorable performances in the past 50 years. Some are memorable because of the musician performing; others are memorable because of the state of the U.S. at the time.
Just in time for the Fourth of July, here’s our round-up of memorable national anthem performances.
Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock 1969
For the final act of Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix played a raw, electric guitar version of the song that became unconventional. He reimagined the song using searing feedback to imitate the sound of bombs exploding as a protest to the Vietnam War.
In an interview with Johnny Carson, Hendrix backed away from the idea that the version of the song he played was controversial.
“All I did was play it. I’m American, so I play it,” said Hendrix, who grew up in Seattle.
Carson told the audience that, if they’re considering sending nasty letters, to keep in mind that Hendrix is a U.S. Army veteran.
“Why would I get any nasty letters?” Hendrix asked. “It’s not unorthodox.”
“It isn’t unorthodox?” Carson responded.
“No, no. I thought it was beautiful.”
Rosanne Barr: 1990 Padres Game
Roseanne Barr’s performance of the national anthem at a 1990 Padres game is still one of the most talked about performances of the “Star-Spangled Banner” yet. She started the song on too high of a note, and the boos came loud and fast.
But like any good comic who’s bombed on stage, Barr handled the flop in stride. She chuckled and barreled through. At the end, she spat on the mound and held her arms out to receive “applause” — or in this case boos.
Whitney Houston: 1991 Superbowl
No list of anthem performances would be complete without Whitney Houston’s incredible performance at the 1991 Superbowl.
The Persian Gulf War was at its height and Whitney’s rousing rendition echoed the strength of the American patriotism that was flooding the country. Accompanied by a full orchestra that could never drown out this epic singer’s voice, it’s no surprised the song landed on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lady Gaga: 2016 Superbowl
At the 2016 Superbowl, Lady Gaga took to the stage accompanied by a single pianist to add a bit of personality to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Dressed head-to-toe in a brilliant red pantsuit, she belted out the strains to the timeless song as only Lady Gaga can.
Buckingham Palace: Changing of the Guard 2001
Emotions were high not just in America in the days following the 9/11 attacks. After nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, flights were shut down and many Americans were stranded overseas. In a moving sign of solidarity with the U.S., the Queen of England allowed the orchestra to play America’s anthem during the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. There were few dry eyes among those who gathered.
Mariah Carey: 2002 Superbowl
A few years before, pop star Mariah Carey crooned the melody to this epic song to the sweet strains of an orchestral accompaniment.
As the first Superbowl after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Carey’s rendition was a bit more solemn. A commemorative statue was also displayed during her performance. To finish off the song, Carey swung up to the whistle register to blow the crowd away.
Rene Rancourt: Boston Bruins Game 2013
Rene Rancourt had the honor of singing the anthem at the first Boston Ruins game after the Boston Marathon bombing. He started out boldly, but just a couple lines in humbly stepped aside and let the crowd take over.
At a moment when the words meant something more than just lines they were taught in school, thousands of voices joined together to pay tribute to the country they love.
We’re sure we missed some great ones. What other performances should be on the list? Let us know in the comments below.