When Whitney Houston sang the national anthem so powerfully she moved a nation to tears

26 October 2020, 15:19 | Updated: 23 November 2020, 16:27

On January 27, 1991 Whitney Houston took to the stage in Tampa, Florida and backed by a full orchestra, sang a now historial version of The Star Spangled Banner.
On January 27, 1991 Whitney Houston took to the stage in Tampa, Florida and backed by a full orchestra, sang a now historial version of The Star Spangled Banner. Picture: ABC/Whitney Houston/Arista Records

By Giorgina Ramazzotti

Whitney Houston's rendition of the national anthem before the 25th Superbowl in 1991 has become one of the most famous of all time.

On January 27, 1991 Whitney Houston took to the stage in Tampa, Florida and backed by a full orchestra, sang a version of 'The Star Spangled Banner' that has gone down in history.

Whitney was belting out the powerful song to a nation on tenterhooks; it was ten days after the start of the Persian Gulf War and millions of people watched as the patriotic performer sang the national anthem to a world in conflict.

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The version of the song was so popular - and now widely regarded as the best of all time - that the singer released it as a charity single to raise funds for soldiers and families of those fighting the 1991 war.

The patriotic emotion of the song resonated deeply with the public, so much so that it was re-released as a single in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.
The patriotic emotion of the song resonated deeply with the public, so much so that it was re-released as a single in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. Picture: ABC/Whitney Houston/Arista Records
Whitney was belting out the powerful song to a nation on tenterhooks; it was ten days after the start of the Persian Gulf War and millions of people watched as the patriotic performer sang the national anthem to a world holding its breath.
Whitney was belting out the powerful song to a nation on tenterhooks; it was ten days after the start of the Persian Gulf War and millions of people watched as the patriotic performer sang the national anthem to a world holding its breath. Picture: ABC/Whitney Houston/Arista Records

The patriotic emotion of the song resonated deeply with the public, so much so that it was re-released as a single in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.

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Once again Whitney Houston donated her share of the royalties, as did her record company Arista Records, towards the firefighters and victims of the attacks.

The song's second release in 2001 brought the single to number 6 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart and saw Whitney become the first musical act to have a top ten hit with the national anthem, which subsequently went platinum.

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The second release brought the single to number 6 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart and saw Whitney become the first musical act to have a top ten hit with the national anthem, which subsequently went platinum.
The second release brought the single to number 6 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart and saw Whitney become the first musical act to have a top ten hit with the national anthem, which subsequently went platinum. Picture: ABC/Whitney Houston/Arista Records

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But not everyone was enamoured by the hit. Singing before 73,813 fans, 115 million viewers in the United States and a worldwide television audience of 750 million, officials at the NFL feared Whitney's version was too "flamboyant" for wartime.

Rickey Minor, Houston's musical director, later told USA Today "[The officials] thought the harmonies were too different, that it was sacrilegious."

There has also since been speculation over whether Whitney was singing live or reportedly lip-syncing to a pre-recorded song, that famous day in 1991.

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Producer Jimmy Jam told Associated Press in 2004: "Whitney, when she did the national anthem, which was the greatest national anthem that we ever heard, what we heard over the air was pre-recorded.

"The reason it was pre-recorded was, that was a moment that no one wanted any mistakes. They didn't want any feedback, they didn't want any technical difficulties ... and it was great."

However, Whitney's publicist Regina Brown said: "Our understanding is Whitney sang live into a live microphone."

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Rickey Minor, Houston&squot;s musical director, later told USA Today "[The NFL officials] thought the harmonies were too different, that it was sacrilegious."
Rickey Minor, Houston's musical director, later told USA Today "[The NFL officials] thought the harmonies were too different, that it was sacrilegious.". Picture: ABC/Whitney Houston/Arista Records

Whitney later spoke about the moment in an interview on TV show Video Soul, and asked about the emotions she felt on the day, said: "I stepped onto the podium and I looked out among the people, and saw the faces of parents of the young men and women who were over there in the Gulf.

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"It tripped me up, it really did and it made me say [to myself] 'Ok, this is for them. This is going to be theirs'", she said of the famous performance.

"It was fear, it was hope. People were crying, people were praying. It was really a very special and intense moment, for everybody."

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