Top contenders for the Star Mangled Banner

Top contenders for the Star Mangled Banner


norman lebrecht

March 01, 2021

Chaka Khan:

Carl Lewis

Christina Aguilera

Harper Gruzins, aged 11:

Drake Grillo, aged 3:



  • John Borstlap says:

    The best is the very personal version of the little kid of 3.

    On the downside: a future music study will be hindered forever.

    • V.Lind says:

      I was ready to be incensed at criticism of a child that age but changed my thoughts almost right away. It is quite an accomplishment for a kid that age to get through it knowing if not being able to pronounce all the words, but what mad force in his life put this on the record forever? Are his parents under the impression that this kid can SING?

      I have never thought the song all THAT hard, though perhaps challenging for a crowd of people at a stadium or in many of the other places Americans truck out the anthem. It’s no challenge to make the notes to anyone who can sing — it’s under two octave (aside from the usually distasteful embellishments the singers all too often add).

  • Save the MET says:

    Norman, you missed the worst one of all time, Roseanne Barr. This one is truly special with a spectacularly horrendous aftermath.

    • BruceB says:

      I’d heard about this one for a long time but never actually watched/heard it until now. A couple of impressions:

      (a) the crowd seems to be booing her before she even starts singing; she was always one of those is-she-funny-or-just-obnoxious comedians even before the incidents around the time of her last TV show, so this is not super surprising.

      (b) as a result, it almost seems like she is singing badly just to piss off the audience. I can understand that impulse, although the musician in me wishes she could have risen above the fray and treated the anthem, and the music, with respect.

      (c) that terrible high note sounds like Ethel Merman at the end of her career.

      (d) this was still better in tune than the CPAC one.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Right you are on all counts, BruceB.
        That CPAC one was so bad, it falls squarely within Florence Foster Jenkins territory.
        But may I add an (e) to your comment?
        (e) let’s all give the little kids a break. They’re just little kids, after all.

      • Patricia Yeiser says:

        At the memorial service in England for 9.11, the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral sang it, like a hymn. Perfect.

  • Roman says:

    These are not teenage Republican girls, so it is fine.

  • Philly Guy says:

    You said Chaka Kahn, but are showing Fergie?

  • Patricia says:

    It sounds better with the USNA chorus or just played. Although Whitney Houston did it well, as did Renee Fleming.

  • PaulD says:

    Roseanne Barr’s performance is legendary:

  • J Barcelo says:

    Can we blame Great Britain for this? Partially? We did steal the unforgiving tune from them after all. Anacreon in Heaven.

    • Patricia says:

      Give us a break. It was written during the war, while FS Key was watching the battle.

      • Save the MET says:

        Dear Patricia, I suggest you do not spend time commenting here without facts at hand. The lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key as a reminiscent poem after, not during the attack on Fort McHenry. The tune is a drinking song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a private club for amateur musicians in London. Frankly, it is a crap piece of music which singers generally abhor as it is literally all over the place. (Written for all over the place drunks) There have been numerous pushes to change it, the best suggestion was Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” which has become an unofficial anthem. The government would not allow it at the time due to rampant antisemitic at the time, not allowing a song written by a Russian born, Jewish immigrant to become the official anthem of the country. Perhaps it is time to revisit it again. Clearly this young woman at cpac demonstrated The Star Spangled Banner is beyond the average, or even mediocre singer. God Bless America is middle register and steady throughout.

        • Ashu says:

          The reason Americans cling to The Star-Spangled Banner is that, even though ordinary people can’t sing it, on the rare occasions when it is sung well, with technique and passion, it is the most exhilarating national anthem anyone has ever heard. (Though there are other kinds of power than exhilaration: the Israeli and Indian anthems come immediately to this mind.) America the Beautiful is simply un-American, sounding more like a candidate for an alternative Canadian anthem. The Banner’s democratic elitism is a major component of its Americanness.

          Incidentally, some may not know that O Canada, whose dullness became one with my being over a childhood of school mornings, is one of the perhaps few national anthems to have originated as a piece of classical music, specifically the slow movement of a piano sonata by an obscure Quebecois composer.

  • Petros LInardos says:

    In the era of social media, having children sing in public such a difficult tune is most inappropriate. Before long those children will be adults and hold the decision makers accountable for their earlier humiliation.

  • Patricia says:

    His pitch isn’t up to much, but he knows all the words. Unlike some people I could name. That is my university, by the way.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    Chaka Khan mixed up with Fergie? Words I never thought i’d type…

  • MacroV says:

    Christina Aguilera is an outstanding singer. I can’t see the clip but I’m assuming it’s more the interpretation than the intonation?

    • debuschubertussy says:

      That and she didn’t know the words lol

      • David K. Nelson says:

        When I was young the most infamous celebrity botch was Robert Goulet who sang it before the second championship fight between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali (his last fight under this prior name). Most of the controversy was how he mangled the words; the rest of the controversy was over how the national anthem lasted longer than the fight, which was a dog.

        Being a season ticket holder for baseball I have had plenty of opportunities to hear it and sing it myself and it has to be in just the right key (no pun intended) for me to avoid switching octaves before the high note. Being from Milwaukee, as a child I thought the last line was “and the home of the Braves.” Then the Braves moved the team to Atlanta and we all had to learn the correct word.

        If you want to hear it sung like it should had oughta, listen to Toscanini’s revised version of Verdi’s Hymn of the Nations. Jan Peerce does the honors. Probably Robert Merrill sang it at more ballgames than any other opera star.

  • sam says:

    The original English drinking song —

    from which the colonists’ rebel anthem came ; )

    was much more singable because it was of the genre of a traditional ballad/shanty, where the high notes matched the gentle lyrics, which could be sung softy,

    but with Francis Scott Key’s bellicose lyrics of “rockets red glare” and “bombs bursting in air”, all those high notes had to be blared out patriotically as it were, which strained not only the music but the voice.

  • Alexander Graham Cracker says:

    “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” –G.K. Chesterton