The 11 best Super Bowl national anthem performances of all time
After two weeks of Super Bowl hype and build-up, it’s finally (almost) game time. The gamblers have placed their bets and everyone rushes to their seats but, gah, you didn’t pay $1,000 over face value just so you could miss this, right?
We’re talking, of course, about the national anthem.
This year, legendary Broadway actress Idina Menzel — best known these days as the voice of Elsa in "Frozen" — will take to the University of Phoenix Stadium field in Glendale, Ariz., and belt out her rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." (One Vegas prop puts the over/under at 2:01. Her performance at last year’s MLB All-Star Game lasted, by our calculations, 1:59.28, give or take.)
But there have some been incredible performances over the past 48 Super Bowls. Here are our picks for the best:
11. Herb Alpert, Super Bowl XXII (1988)
I played the trumpet from the fifth grade all through high school. I played in the concert and the jazz band. I listened to a lot of trumpet-centric music. So believe me when I say: I have never heard of Herb Alpert before.
Now, having said that, let’s appreciate this for what it is: a guy in a funky white suit who’s wailing on his trumpet in front of hundreds of millions of people. I could never do that. Much respect.
10. Neil Diamond, Super Bowl XXI (1987)
Diamond gets all the points for sheer, workmanlike efficiency (gone in 60 seconds!) and for bringing a close to the song with a Neil Diamond-esque audience singalong.
9. Cheryl Ladd, Super Bowl XIV (1980)
A solid effort. A little old-timey country quality to Ladd’s voice makes this one unique. Ladd rushing through to the end and restarting the final note for more emphasis means points off in my book.
8. Mariah Carey, Super Bowl XXXVI (2002)
I hate myself for including this one, but I feel like I’d regret it more if I left it off completely. The 16-octave jump at the end feels like cheating, the arrangement is wacky, and the whole production is so theatrical. Still, it is what it is. With some changes, could’ve been an easy top-fiver.
7. Dixie Chicks, Super Bowl XXXVII (2003)
This one probably should be higher. Oh well. It’s still a pretty top-notch performance, with the kind of flawless, three-part harmony that would’ve made the Bee Gees blush.
6. Luther Vandross, Super Bowl XXI (1997)
One of the most effortless Super Bowl anthems ever performed. Not crazy about the arrangement, especially during the bridge. If this had been a cappella, it’d be a serious contender for the top slot.
5. Vanessa Williams, Super Bowl XXX (1996)
The national anthem, interpreted as an Oscar-nominated Disney song. And I mean that in only the nicest way possible.
4. Faith Hill, Super Bowl XXXIV (2000)
To Hill’s enduring credit, this arrangement comes off as more ’80s pop than pure heartland country, so it’s got more of a quality that can stretch across both time and geography. Nonetheless, this rendition made the country music charts after 9/11 despite never being released as a single.
3. Beyoncé, Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)
A downright understated rendition by Beyoncé standards. Perhaps a little too snare drum-y in the second half as we approached the coda, but the Houston native brings it home in her hometown. (By the way: It’s been A DECADE since Beyoncé sang the Super Bowl anthem? Somebody get on that for SB50, stat.)
2. Whitney Houston, Super Bowl XXV (1991)
The whole package: The intensity of the performance, the vocal chops, the tapping into the sooooooper-patriotism that was on display. Some people will knock her for lip-synching, but if that really bothers you, like on a core level, then don’t sit and wonder why you can’t enjoy nice things in this world.
1. Jennifer Hudson, Super Bowl XLIII (2009)
An underappreciated classic of our own time. Hudson’s emotion, mixed with the updated, rock-and-soul-infused arrangement is like a slow burn that builds to a bonfire by the final note. If they played the audio of this performance every year instead of bringing in fresh blood, no one ought to complain.