We're approaching the end of the 4th of July weekend (it's Sunday afternoon as I write this), a holiday full of celebration, fireworks, and retrospectives on Francis Scott Key and the poem that he wrote. And it got me thinking about variations on The Star Spangled Banner.
There have been some very good ones. Whitney Houston at the '91 Super Bowl, Hendrix at Woodstock, Patty LaBelle at Forest Hills, Wayne Messmer and the crowd at Chicago Stadium before the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, The Beach Boys at last year's Dodgers opener to name a few. And surely there have been some bad ones. Who could forget Rosanne Barr at a Padres game in 1990, or track star Carl Lewis, who need speed to escape from his 1993 butchering of the song. I'll forgive Robert Goulet for mangling the lyrics before the Liston-Ali fight in Lewiston, Maine in 1965. Goulet was Canadian and had never sung it before. But Macy Gray, Christine Aguilera, and Michael Bolton should have known better.
But any list of memorable renditions of Our National Anthem would include two absolutely riviting versions. I thought of the blog before I went and looked, but most lists have these one/two, either one being on top.
Long long ago (1968) in a place far, far away (Detroit) the Tigers did something that hadn't done sing longer, longer ago (1945). It was a great series, one that has created the only real conterversy in my 30 year marriage to the most wonderful person in the world.....who hapens to be a Cardinal fan. Bt in any case, Detroit's legendary radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell was asked to line up the anthem singers for the Tiger's home games in that series. One of them was 23 year old Jose Feliciano the blind folksinger from Puerto Rico via New York City. He was well known, having played Detroit area folk clubs, but Light My Fire was still a couple of years off when he did this now memorable version of the Star Spangled Banner
1968 World Series - National Anthem by José Feliciano
It was NOT well received by the 54,000 in the crowd, or many of the folks who heard it on radio and TV. But RCA, who had him under contract, knew a good thing when they heard it, and released it as a 45. It made it to #50 on the Billboard charts. Now remember this was back in the day when radio statins didn't switch to taped or sattelite delivered programing. They actually signed off at night, usually around midnight, and this version got continual airplay night after night after night and college and young adult based stations used it to close their broadcast day.
What many people forget is that the game before, again at the behest of Ernie Harwell, Marvin Gaye sang. As the story goes, Ernie asked Marvin to sing it in the traditional manner, a request he did NOT give to Feleciano. Gaye complied and gave a good if straight forward reading of the song.
Marvin Gaye National Anthem 1968 World Series
Marvin, in turn was given a chance to redeam himself. Almost didn't happen. For his gig at the 1983 NBA All Star Game in Los Angeles....actually Inglewood at The Forum.....he was late. Two hours late, and a 24 year old usher at The Forum, Amanda Mayo, was warming up as a last minute replacement. Mayo, the daughter of actress Virginia Mayo, was said to have perfect pitch, and had sung her way into the rotation of anthem singers at the Forum. But she had one wish.....that Gaye would show up. And he did.
Marvin Gaye sings American National Anthem
This too had some controversy. Leo Rosen, the Laker's PR guy, loved Gaye and his version. But NBA Commisioner Larry O'Brian didn't. And let Rosen know that he didn't. In a VERY colourful way. At halftime a long faced Rosen checked in with Laker owner Jerry Buss, who asked what was wrong. Rosen told him. "That was the greatest anthem of all time," Buss told him. "Are you kidding".
Could be. Or maybe Feleciano's was. It's too close to call.