Thank you, beautiful Gladys Knight, for your fine, transcendent performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during Sunday’s Super Bowl.
I’ve always been a purist when it comes to the National Anthem and am usually disappointed by contemporary singers who try to make it about themselves and their vocal chops by giving a performance that sounds like a bad, over-sung “American Idol” audition. As Simon Cowell might say, “Appalling.”
But your version was in a class by itself. Your rich voice cast a spell with the tune and wrapped itself around the lyrics. You sang with such simplicity, power and sincerity. You’ve obviously given a lot of thought to those words. At a time when some people insist on making EVERYTHING about politics, you rose above that and focused on what the song itself represents.
I also saw your interview on CNN, in which you spoke not about petty issues or political correctness but of things that are really important: the people who have died for our country, and people even in your own family who have served. “We’ve fought hard for a long time,” you said, “and not just in wars.” You understand that the Anthem is about that struggle as a nation to make it through the night --- every night --- from “twilight’s last gleaming” to “dawn’s early light.” And in singing it the way you did, with such conviction, you succeeded in your goal of “giving the Anthem back its voice.”
You said you weren’t so much political as you are a “heart person,” and that was great to hear, as the heart seems to be mostly absent from the national conversation. Doesn’t it seem to you that the only emotion we see expressed these days is anger? What happened to love, hope, forgiveness, respect? How wonderful it must have been for you to perform for Dr. King, what an honor, because he was all about the heart as well –- the conscience, the character. You obviously had a good, solid grounding in those principles growing up in your family, as you learned to follow your heart and operate out of love and respect. This is what we seem to be missing right now.
It touched me to hear you say that we have a country “worth standing up for.” I agree with you that race relations right now are not good, at least as portrayed in the media. There are some who want to tear down all the progress that has been made over the decades, and I think most of that is to gain political power. (And, yes, I do believe that “taking a knee” during the Anthem was an extremely misguided attempt to make a statement –- whether one agrees with that statement or not –- and that it was exploited by those who think “patriotism” is a bad word and who want to hurt America by dividing us.) But I still believe there are far more Americans who want to be able to put all that negativity aside and think of other people of all races the way Dr. King hoped we would.
So thank you, Ms. Knight, for graciously playing a part in helping us do that. It was a difficult position for you to be in, and it shouldn’t have had to be. We will always remember your beautiful performance. No one could have done a better job singing about “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”