On January 27th, 1991, Whitney Houston took the stage before the Super Bowl XXV between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants to uphold the tradition of singing the National Anthem before the game. Thirty years later, her performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” is still widely considered the best rendition in Super Bowl history.
The United States was ten days into the Persian Gulf War when Houston performed “The Star Spangled Banner”, accompanied by the Florida Orchestra and music director Jahja Ling in front of 73 thousand fans, and over 750 million viewers worldwide.
Considering the unprecedented times occurring in the U.S. at the time, many people felt a sense of patriotism sweep over them while Whitney belted out the lyrics to Francis Scott Key’s 1814 song. Following the performance, Arista Records received countless phone calls requesting copies of the single for purchase. This led to the company releasing Houston’s rendition as a single, as well as a video of the performance, with profits going to the war effort.
Ten years later, following the September 11th terrorist attacks, Whitney Houston re-released the single on September 26, 2001, along with her version of “America the Beautiful”. All proceeds went to the New York Firefighters 9/11 Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Fraternal Order of Police. L.A. Reid, the CEO of Arista Records at the time, said in a statement, "In a time of tragedy, Whitney Houston's recording of our National Anthem has comforted and inspired our nation."
While Houston’s performance moved millions to tears, it didn’t come without controversy. Days after the Super Bowl, she was accused of lip syncing to a pre-recorded version of the song. It was stated that the NFL had chosen to go with a pre-recorded version of the song because “we felt there were too many risks to do it live”. However, many didn’t seem to care whether or not Whitney was singing live, because the song was that touching. It was ranked #18 within the 100 Greatest Super Bowl Moments by ESPN in 2005, saying "Whitney Houston's stirring national anthem in Tampa―as the Gulf War goes on―brings tears to millions. Who cares if it was pre-recorded?"
Thirty years after Houston’s live Super Bowl performance, her version of the national anthem has been considered one of the 25 Most Memorable Music Moments in NFL History by Rolling Stone, “The Best National Anthem in 40 Years of Super Bowl History” by USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and ranked number 7 in TV Land’s “Top Ten Musical Moments”.
Relive the performance in the video below.