Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato & The Iconic Performances of the Star-Spangled Banner

By David Salazar

Happy Birthday United States of America!

Today on July 4 we celebrate the birth of the US with its musical symbol of Independence, the Star Spangled Banner. Over the years, many opera stars have interpreted the famed musical anthem in iconic settings. On this day, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton will add her own rendition to the Macy’s July 4 Fireworks Extravaganza. Let’s look at other instances where opera’s great stars have performed the great theme.

Renée Fleming At the Super Bowl XLVIII

 Perhaps the most famous performance of the decade, Fleming became the first-ever operatic superstar to perform the national anthem at the Super Bowl, her performance broadcast to hundreds of millions of viewers. It was quite a momentous occasion, with those watching listening to an operatic voice for the very first time.

 Joyce DiDonato at the 2014 World Series

DiDonato also delivered a historic performance of the Star-Spangled Banner as she became the first opera star to perform at the World Series. A lifelong Kansas City Royals fan, a campaign was made to get her in the stadium to sing for her favorite team. She wound up getting the opportunity in Game 7, though her team didn’t quite measure up, losing the pivotal game in front of their home fans.

 Isabel Leonard at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show 2017

Perhaps, not as historic an occasion as the others on the list, but essential none the less with the New York-native performing for a massive crowd of animal lovers. Again, notice the straight-forward approach without the need for any interpolated high notes. Take a listen here.

 Marilyn Horne At Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration

The legendary contralto performed throughout the ceremony, but her rendition of the national anthem is iconic for its brisk and urgent approach. Take a listen here.

Robert Merrill at Constitution Hall 

Merrill’s interpretation of the anthem is also one of the most iconic as he was showcased at Yankees Stadium throughout his career, performing the anthem on opening night. However, one of his finest renditions was this performance from Constitution Hall in Washington, the voice still in fine condition and the singing respectful.

Marian Anderson at Lincoln Memorial in 1939 and the 1961 Inauguration 

While the others on this list are all worthy of major recognition for their respective interpretations, there is no performance more iconic than that of Anderson, who showcased her talents in the anthem on two momentous occasions.

The first of these was during an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial, that resulted from Anderson being rejected from performing at Constitution Hall.

Her second iconic performance came during the 1961 inauguration, now at the tail-end of her career. You can give a listen here.

The performance from 1939 is below, Anderson very much in her vocal prime.

Which of these interpretations is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below. 


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