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Monday, February 9, 2004
Which "The Star-Spangled Banner" renditions should be included?


Graham Hays gives Page 3's best - and worst - renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Page 3 readers offer theirs, and here are the best of them:

Wayne Messmer at 1991 NHL All-Star Game
Mark R., St. Louis:
Wayne Messmer's version at the the 1991 NHL All-Star Game is rarely mentioned. I have not seen it since it happened but still get goose bumps and teary-eyed when I think of it. The game was just days (if not hours) removed officially entered the first Gulf War and the first bombs began dropping on Baghdad. As Messmer sang, the fans cheered in the traditional Chicago anthem style as they emphatically waved hundreds upon hundreds of flags and dozens of banners supporting our troops. Whitney Houston's rendition was great. Messmer's was even better. The greatest I have ever seen (and that is from a St. Louis Blues fan).

Sean Henry, Las Vegas:
The most memorable version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" for me was the 1991 NHL All-Star Game in Chicago. Wayne Messmer sang it as beautifully as ever, but as usual, the crowd stole the show. As a former Blackhawks season ticket holder, I was never so proud to be a Hawks fan, and most of all, an American, after hearing the anthem that day.

Mike, Chicago
Any top 10 National Anthem that leaves off the 1991 NHL All-Star game anthem at the Chicago Stadium during the Gulf War is simply wrong.

Paul, Nashua, N.H.
The one that stands out for me occurred shortly before Whitney Houston sang at the Super Bowl. It was in Chicago, at the old Chicago stadium, before the NHL All-Star game in 1991. I have never heard any crowd as loud as that one was that day, at any event. It was so soon after we started Operation Desert storm, and a scary time for someone like me, who was a child in a military family, and I, like some of my friends, were very concerned about having to say goodbye to someone we knew because they might be shipped out. To this day, when I think about that song, performed on that day, in that venue, with that crowd, and feeling what I was feeling then, it sometimes brings a tear to my eye.

Steve, Lansing, Ill.
I am quite disappointed that Wayne Messmer's rendition from the 1991 NHL All-Star game in Chicago was not included in the list. The Gulf War had just started, and the building was showing its support for the troops. I was five years old at that game, but i remember it very clearly. At the time it did not mean much to me, but when I think about it now, it brings a tear to my eye. I have listened to recordings, and you can barely hear Messmer, because the crowd was drowning him out. In fact, I had to cover my ears because it was too loud for me to bear. I guess you had to be there to appreciate it though. If you get the chance, head to the Blackhawks website; they have the clip posted. It is quite something to watch.

Macy Gray at 2001 Pro Hall of Fame Exhibition Game
Joanna, Columbus, Ohio:
I think you should add Macy Gray's rendition of our national anthem during the Pro Football Hall of Fame game a few years ago. That was truly embarrassing.

How did Macy Gray incredible mangling of the lyrics at the Hall of Fame game fail to make the bottom five anthems?

Boston at 2002 Fiesta Bowl
Geoff, Racine, Wis.
It may have flown under the radar, but Boston's feedback-laden performance prior to the 2002 Fiesta Bowl was a wordless, horrifying assault on the senses made infinitely worse by the fact that they actually seemed to believe they were creating a classic. On the plus side, at least they didn't sing "Amanda."

Dallas Cowboy Games in 1960s
Stan Spence, Burke Va.
Add to the 10 best list the guy who played the trumpet at the Dallas Cowboys games, I believe back in the '60s. Simple, elegant and to the point.

Dixie Chicks at 2003 Super Bowl
Howard, Miami:
You left off an even better Super Bowl performance: the Dixie Chicks before SB XXXVII -- a perfect 3-women in a Cappella version was the song that Francis Scott Key had in mind. The fact that they could perform such a pitch-perfect version of the anthem AND criticize the President shows what it means to be a free-speaking member of a free society.

James Earl Jones at 2003 Veterans Stadium MLB Game
Dave, Mendota, Va.:
I don't remember the year, but James Earl jones' recitation of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the MLB All-Star game was the most powerful rendition I've ever heard.

Stork, Southwick, Mass.:
I have been trying to hear a tape of it after someone told me about James Earl Jones reciting the Anthem. One of the greatest talents and voices in acting must have brought goose bumps to the crowd.

Anastacia at 2002 MLB All-Star Game
Kris, Milwaukee:
Your ranking of the best and worst national anthems is missing one, and it is one that belongs on the worst list. What about the horrible rendition at the MLB All-Star game in Milwaukee? I mean the person who sang it, Anastacia, couldn't even get the words right. She sang, "The Rockets Grave Glare" for God sakes'! Granted the game that followed was pretty forgettable as well. I guess I understand how that one was missed.

London, San Jose :
For the worst "The Star-Spangled Banner," how can you forget the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee when Anastacia sang, "And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting up there ..." That HAS to be on the top 5 worst because no matter how bad Aerosmith or Rosanne are, at least they got the words right.

Marvin Gaye at 1983 NBA All-Star Game
Jeff, Torrance:
To consider Marvin Gaye's rendition of the national anthem as anything other than a complete abomination is an insult to every person living in this country. Listening to his "version" was revolting in every sense and it unfortunately encouraged other singers to take their own liberties with the anthem when they should be respecting it as it was composed.

Dave Brummett, Kent, Wash.:
Marvin Gaye, No. 1? You have be a clueless American. I'm one of those Americans who expects the anthem to be sung in a respectful manner, not an excuse to put their 'stamp' on it by making sound like another upbeat version of Mr. Gaye's classic hit "Sexual Healing," which was having heavy airplay at the time. Give me Beyonce or Whitney Houston versions anytime over these singers who want make the song into an excuse to make sound like a version of their latest hit song.

Ruben Stoddard at 2004 NFC Championship
Todd Coulter:
I really enjoyed the version performed by Rueben Stoddard during the Eagles-Panthers championship game. I thought it was very well done without being pretentious. His smile at the end spoke volumes!

Cher at 1999 Super Bowl
Tim Robinson, San Diego, Calif.:
Surprisingly enough, I thought Cher did a great job singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl a few years ago. I'm not that big a fan of Cher, and I didn't appreciate her wearing blue jeans for such a special assignment. But I've got to give her credit; she did a great job.

Beyonce at 2004 Super Bowl
N. Rogers, Houston, Texas:
Graham, you've got to be kidding me. Except for the fact that the accompaniment was exactly the same as Whitney's, Beyonce's national anthem was perfect. She undeniably sang it better than Whitney did. I'm not asking you to switch them, because Whitney's anthem was delivered under a time of greater national stress under war. Even though, Super Bowl XXV was a great game, too. I just want you to recognize how well Beyonce sung the anthem.

Whitney Houston at 1991 Super Bowl
Brad Lyons, St. Louis:
Whitney Houston's version may have been well performed, but it wasn't the true "The Star-Spangled Banner." The real song is in 3/4 time, and she converted it to 4/4 time. Nobody would dare change the Declaration of Independence to suit her artistic whims; why do so many "artists" get away with mauling the national anthem? That was garbage.

Ian, Detroit:
How can you say that Whitney Houston's performance was/is not the greatest of all time. As a member of the United States Military and an American, I get chills every time I hear her rendition of the National Anthem. Not to discard Marvin Gaye's performance, it was unique and cutting edge. But singing National Anthem is not the time to express musical ability or to preform it as it means to you. The National Anthem is to be performed only one way, the way Francis Scott Key intended it to be performed. Ms. Houston's performance is the only time our great National Anthem ever made it into the billboard charts. Because of Whitney Houston, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played on the mainstream radio for the first time in its existence. Whitney Houston's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is the most patriotic rendition and bone-chilling performance of all time!

Booing of National Anthems
Matt Accardo, Los Banos, Calif.:
Great final point on the bottom five about the booings of the American and Canadian national anthems. Having national pride doesn't involve showing utter disrespect and disdain for the patriotic symbols of other countries. I once read a reprinted article from the early 1900's previewing a high school football game between two rival schools. I was amazed to read that fans planning to attend were requested not to cheer when the opposing team incurred penalties or made other mistakes. Finding this concept somewhat ridiculous, I read out the sentence to my dad. I'll never forget his reply: "It used to be a gentleman's world, Matthew. It used to be a gentleman's world."

Boyz II Men at 1993 NBA All-Star Game
Fred V., Mineral Point, Wis.:
Boyz II Men's performance at the 1993 NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. Who knew you could do "The Star-Spangled Banner" in four-part harmony (and make it soar in the process)?