What So Proudly We Hailed

Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012)

I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow; if I fail, or if I succeed at least I did as I believe.

Whitney Houston

I had an eerie feeling last night watching the pre-game ceremony for  the Super Bowl.  I was born the same year as Whitney Houston.   In 1991, I was still in graduate school with a 5 month old son, not yet having launched my career and scrambling two part time jobs to pay the bills, raising an infant with my wife and buried in classes and working on my thesis.   A lot has happened in 30 years and that cycle of time, seeing the Super Bowl return to the same city it was played 30 years ago opened the emotional floodgate of memories. 

I am a sports fan, mostly baseball.  I have heard the national anthem countless times.   I tend to roll my eyes a bit at the hyper patriotic militarization of sports, the fly-overs, recognizing it for what it is, a recruitment tool for young people.  Turning sports events into patriotic marketing is done because its good for business and is a relatively recent phenomenon, but in big games, singing the national anthem is like the first hymn in church, it forces you to stop talking to the person next to you, take off your hat and pay attention to what is about to happen.   It creates mindfulness, even if you aren’t caught up in the patriotic aspect of it and the ridiculousness hardness of the song to sing.

I don’t remember the 1991 Super Bowl except for the last quarter.  It’s probably the only portion I caught. I owned an 8 inch black and white TV at the time, broadcast channels only, that sat on the kitchen table of the duplex that I lived.   There was no super bowl party at my house.   Sunday was my one day off a week, I probably was catching up on chores, playing with my son.  There wasn’t YouTube in 1991, there wasn’t the internet, or at least I didn’t use it. I had a computer but all it did was act as a word processor and crunch stats for my graduate level thesis.   We had no internet connection, no cable,  no cell phone.  Performances like Houston’s didn’t become instant classics on the internet like today.   Life was good.  

It has only been since Whitney Houston died tragically, too young, that this version of The Star Spangled Banner has come to mean something to me, has entered my consciousness as something special.  It is both a connection to my younger self, when all things were possible, for Whitney, for my son, for America, for myself, and an embodiment of just how incredible Whitney’s voice is on this version, a testament to how special a gift her music is and still is.   Whitney’s version of our national anthem, gives me hope, it gives me chills.  But, if you read Francis Scott Key’s original poem on which our national anthem is based, the end of the first stanza ends with a question mark, not an exclamation point;  “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”  Are we brave enough to confront our past, unite and succeed in an America that can do better than we do now?   When Whitney Houston sings it, I believe the answer is YES. 

Whitney Houston Singing The National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida

Defence of Fort M’Henry

By Francis Scott Key  (1779 – 1843)
 
O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
    What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
    O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
        And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
        Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there —
            O! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?
 
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze o’er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
        Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
        In full glory reflected now shines on the stream —
            ‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
 
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havock of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
    Their blood has wash’d out their foul foot-steps’ pollution,
        No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
        From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave;
            And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
 
O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
    Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
    Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
        Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
        And this be our motto — “In God is our trust!”
            And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.