Did It Move You?

If you were one of the approximately 113 million people who tuned in to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday (Feb.12, 2023), you no doubt saw Chris Stapleton’s moving performance of The Star Spangled Banner. Unless, of course, you were busy putting the finishing touches on the array of unhealthy snacks to be served during half time! The video of his performance, which was uploaded to YouTube the same day, is sure to go viral if it hasn’t already, and in my mind rightly so. Over the years, I have listened to painful renditions of this anthem, most of them overwrought with staged emotion, with many performances trying way too hard to feign patriotism by adding all kinds of voice inflections that are done to add “excitement” to a song, but in the case of the anthem, usually does the exact opposite, making one reach for the remote to hit the mute button. This, I am sure, is exactly what people were doing when they listened to Fergie absolutely butcher the song at the 2018 NBA All Star Game in Los Angeles. Rest assured that it is not only the American anthem that gets this kind of treatment at special events. I grew up singing and listening to the Canadian national anthem, and over the years, I have heard some rather painful versions of it as well.

During Stapleton’s performance, the camera panned around the stadium as per usual, until it found the Philadelphia Eagles’ coach, Nick Sirianni, with tears streaming down his face, and Eagle’s center Jason Kelce who also looked a bit misty-eyed. When the camera panned to other players on the sidelines, there may not have been tears, but their collective expressions were far different from what I have seen during other performances of the anthem. All of which leaves me with one question: Why? Why was Stapleton’s performance so moving? One only has to peruse some of the comments posted on the YouTube video for the answer. Comments like: “He didn’t ‘perform’ this, he sang it from his soul. It was absolutely breathtaking and exactly what our National Anthem should be;” “As an Aussie who has lived in the US all I can say is Bravo sir!!! You had that guitar shedding tears itself. So simple yet so powerful;” “This a testament to the power of HOW a song is delivered. I’ll be sharing this with my students so they can witness the true emotional power of music. Thank you, Chris Stapleton!” There are many more of these effusive comments (over 11,000 so far), many of them from people all across the globe.

As I mentioned above, I did not grow up in this country, so my knowledge on this anthem is lacking, other than knowing who it was written by, but not much else. And seeing as I too was moved by this rendition of the song, I decided to do a little digging…I’m glad I did! The lyrics for the song come from a poem written on September 18, 1814, by 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key; after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in Outer Baltimore Harbor at the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, then with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the “Star-Spangled Banner,” flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory. The tune for the song actually comes from a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for a men’s social club, titled “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a song that was well known in the U.S. at the time. It was re-named “The Star-Spangled Banner” and soon became well-known as a U.S. patriotic song. In 1931, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution making the song the official national anthem. Although there are actually four verses to the song, only the first verse is typically performed. One of the reasons for the many unflattering performances of the anthem has to do with the song’s complexity, as it has a range of 19 semitones, which alone make it difficult to sing, but if you are trying to embellish it with too many inflections, look out!

This was obviously not the case with Chris Stapleton’s rendition. I will admit to not being a huge fan of country and western music, although it is probably more accurate to say that I am very, very selective when it comes to this music. While there was that tell-tale “twang” in Stapleton’s voice, I would be hard-pressed to label this a “country” treatment of the anthem. For myself, he infused the song with so much emotion and clarity, it was as if he was singing it only to me, and not to a stadium full of people. I found myself riveted to the couch, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my mouth might have been hanging open! There have been many psychological studies done on why and how music moves us in this way, which is not that surprising given that the main point of music is to evoke emotion, with memory not that far behind. We have all experienced that feeling at some time or another when we hear a song played from our youth that opens a flood of remembrances both positive and negative. It has only been two days since that performance, and I’m already hearing the “buzz” that this may have been the best performance of the national anthem ever! On that note, I will leave you with the video of that performance below, and as a special bonus a video of Tom Callinan (2012), doing his best to look like one of the founding fathers, playing guitar and singing the entire anthem…yes, all four verses. Below that are the lyrics in their entirety. Given all this, I’m hoping not to be deported anytime soon!

Chris Stapleton (Due to NFL policy you will have to click the arrow to go to YouTube to watch this)

Tom Callinan (This one might be blocked too, so same deal as above!)

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s 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 in 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 havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ 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 loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved 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![

Los Angeles 2023

5 thoughts on “Did It Move You?

  1. A stunning performance to be certain. No surprise to those that know his music as he really pours himself into his songs. He’s almost single handedly restored Country Music to its roots and now put the genre on the world stage. A nice breakdown on the anthem!

    Liked by 1 person

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