25 Celebrity National Anthem Performances Ranked Best to Worst
Performing the national anthem is a coveted gig for singers — but it's no easy task!
"The Star Spangled Banner," written by poet Francis Scott Key after the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812, was officially adopted as the national anthem of the United States of America in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover. Since the end of World War II it's become a staple at the beginning of NFL games, and today it's performed or heard before almost every sporting event in the United States.
Often it's performed by celebrities––especially at high-profile events like the Super Bowl, World Series, etc. Though a relatively short song, "The Star Spangled Banner" is difficult to sing due to its wide vocal range, and performers often forget the poetic lyrics. Add the pressure of a stadium full of patriotic sports fans and a live broadcast to millions of additional viewers, and it's understandable why many celebrity performers flub a lyric or note. A botched performance of the national anthem can break a performer's career, but a successful one can elevate a it to new heights or, in rare cases, even become a commercial hit.
From Lady Gaga to Fergie, many celebrities have given noteworthy national anthem performances for better or for worse. Below, check out 25 celebrity national anthem performances ranked from best to worst.
Whitney Houston’s flawless rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 came just after the Persian Gulf War began, a time during which Americans were even more passionately patriotic than usual. Backed by a full orchestra, Houston delivered a show-stopping vocal performance so effortless she did it with her hands in the pockets of her red, white and blue tracksuit. Houston’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” was so instantly beloved that it was commercially released as a charity single to benefit the soldiers and families affected by the war, and it peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was then re-released after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 by Arista Records (with proceeds donated to those affected), peaking even higher at No. 6 on the Hot 100 and going on to be certified platinum in the United States by the RIAA. The data doesn’t lie: Whitney Houston clearly delivered the most iconic and memorable version of our national anthem to date.
Powerhouse vocalist and Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson brought the house down at Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 with her cinematic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Her soulful version of the anthem was breathtaking due to her unmatched vocal control and ambitious, yet wildly successful added riffs during the climax. If Hudson was nervous before this seemingly effortless performance, you would never know. This breathtaking version of the anthem, reminiscent of Whitney Houston’s iconic rendition, surely brought chills and tears to viewers all across America, as Hudson’s ethereal vocal talents often do.
By the final day of the legendary Woodstock Music and Arts Festival of 1969, the crowd sizes had weakened, and the festival grounds were basically in ruins following the weekend’s unhinged events. Jimi Hendrix took the stage in a delayed time slot and opened his set with a distorted guitar rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” His memorable take on the track twisted it from a patriotic tune to an anti-war protest anthem as he used his instrument to mimic the sounds of the then-ongoing Vietnam War for a disturbing and powerful jam session. Hendrix’ version resonated with the hippies in the crowd, but it also struck a nerve across America, displaying the immense power music has when paired with activism. He turned the song’s meaning on its head and made it entirely his own, culminating in not only an unforgettable moment in the festival’s legacy, but in America’s history.
At Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000, country singer Faith Hill turned the national anthem into a perfect Y2K power ballad. Hill’s fresh, clean take on the song stayed true to its original arrangement while combining the sounds of bagpipes with synths and kick drums to tailor the classic to fit her country-pop atmosphere. It was a successfully ambitious, yet not too far out of the box rendition of the classic that stands the test of time as one of the best high-profile versions of the anthem.
Just weeks before a large portion of their American fanbase turned on them for lead singer Natalie Maines’ comments about George W. Bush at a London concert, Dixie Chicks performed a perfectly harmonized version of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. The trio of country queens delivered a straightforward and well executed a capella performance of the song that is memorable for its clean pitch and warm tone, free of the bells and whistles that often tear down takes on the classic.
2016 was quite the busy year for Lady Gaga. Between the release of Joanne, wins at the Grammys and the Golden Globes and her first Academy Award nomination, she found the time to deliver an incredible performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl 50. Physically embodying the American flag in a sparkly red suit, the patriotic “Italian girl from New York” showed off her classically trained vocal chops in her successfully over-the-top rendition of the song. She even ended the performance with a strong “God bless you, America!” fully aware that she killed the performance for no less than a "million reasons."
In 2002, Mariah Carey took on the difficult task of performing the national anthem at Super Bowl XXVII—the first Super Bowl held post-9/11. While Carey could have utilized her five-octave range (which is difficult to get, not everybody has that) to add some vocal gymnastics to her rendition, she opted for a more restrained take on the track. However, in true Mariah Carey fashion, she finished out the “land of the free” line with one of her classic whistle tones for one of the most unique versions of the anthem to date.
Fresh off of her 2007 win on American Idol, a then-teenage Jordin Sparks fulfilled yet another dream for an American vocalist: singing the national anthem at Super Bowl XLII. For such a young artist on such a huge, intense stage, Sparks kept her composure impressively. She delivered a warm, yet strong vocal performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” that reminded Americans of exactly why they spent tireless nights calling whichever 1-866-IDOLS phone number was assigned to her week after week.
At Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, Kelly Clarkson delivered an upbeat take on “The Star Spangled Banner” that sparked a discussion about why she hasn’t been offered a halftime show slot yet (care to comment, NFL?). Complete with her always-pristine vocal talent, the understated performance only further proved why Clarkson is a household name who should be performing songs on television every day... Oh wait, she does!
Prior to the career-defining surprise release of her self-titled album later in the year, Beyoncé graced America with her presence at Barack Obama’s second Presidential Inauguration in 2013 to perform the national anthem. Her classic take on the song featured vocals so perfect that controversy was sparked over whether or not she lip-synced to a pre-recorded live track (She later confirmed in a press conference for her halftime show at Super Bowl 50, she did in fact lip-sync.). Nonetheless, Queen Bey’s Marine Band-backed “Star Spangled Banner” performance was understated and classic, and it stands the test of time.
Just one year before his tragic passing, the Prince of Motown, Marvin Gaye, turned the national anthem into a majorly memorable bop at the 1983 NBA All-Star game. His groovy take on the song is perhaps the only rendition you could hear come on in a bar and not question it: It had Gaye’s classic soft, soulful vocal charm and a bouncy Motown beat that had the audience cheering throughout and even clapping along by the end.
There have been few national anthem performances as unique as Aretha Franklin’s rendition at the Detroit Lions-Minnesota Vikings game on Thanksgiving in 2016. The late Queen of Soul’s performance at the piano in her hometown of Detroit was like no other, clocking in at a lengthy four minutes and thirty-five seconds—but who is going to tell a legend to speed it up? By the performance’s halfway mark, it’s easy to forget you’re even listening to the national anthem and not just a classic Franklin performance filled with her soulful, intimately soft vocals. You will stand for however long Aretha Franklin wants to take to sing the anthem, and you will enjoy it!
Destiny’s Child’s take on “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game was quite ambitious, yet successful. The full sound of Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams’ vocal talents that filled the a capella rendition left little to be desired...other than a solo for Williams, but that’s a whole other discussion. The trio delivered a unique performance of the anthem that is quite memorable in the group's lasting legacy.
Wherever Alicia Keys goes, a piano follows. It’s rare for a Super Bowl national anthem performance to feature a performer playing an instrument and singing, but at Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, Keys delivered. Though vocally impressive, Keys played it safe in her comfort zone, leaving a bit more to be desired from the 15-time Grammy Award winner.
Pink’s performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl LII is a perfect example of “The show must go on.” The singer had the flu during the 2018 performance, which started with her spitting out a cough drop, but she powered through like the superstar she is. Understandably the performance had weak, shaky vocal moments at its lowest, but the highs were still high. Overall, Pink’s performance with the flu was still better than many other singers on their best days.
At the 2009 World Series, Patti LaBelle gave what is perhaps one of the most vocally powerful performances of the national anthem of all time. After a couple of lyric flubs, the legendary singer and sweet potato pie saleswoman went even harder on the vocals to make up for it—maybe even a little too hard.
Steven Tyler would never deliver an ordinary performance of the national anthem. At the 2001 Indy 500, the Aerosmith frontman pulled out a harmonica for an unexpected and lengthy introduction, followed by a shouty rendition complete with a slightly-jarring classic Tyler high note. He even finished off the performance with an impromptu lyric change: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the Indy 500.” Maybe it’s not the best, but you can’t say he didn’t spice it up!
At Kobe Bryant’s farewell game with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016 against the Utah Jazz, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage for quite the interesting rendition of the national anthem. The performance was a unique complete electric bass solo with sonic nods to Jimi Hendrix’s protest twist on the classic, but it was far less successful than that now-classic take. As YouTube commenter Jon Ishy put it, “His tone sounds like a wet fart.” Touché!
Christina Aguilera’s performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl XLV is one of the most-remembered moments of her career... for all the wrong reasons. The “Not Myself Tonight” singer infamously messed up the lyrics, singing an incorrectly-modified version of an already out-of-place line: “What so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last gleaming.” Though she delivered a strong vocal performance with a few classic Xtina runs, the rendition remains overshadowed by both the major lyric flub and the rough final note.
Country singer Dierks Bentley’s twangy take on “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 2017 Stanley Cup Final fell flat—along with his vocals. The monotone, raspy rendition sounded like it would have been better off if Bentley cleared his throat midway through. Luckily, the crowd wasn’t too bored: this girl had her fidget spinner to keep her occupied through the performance.
Before the 2018 NWSL soccer game between the Utah Royals-Chicago Red Stars, Rachel Platten took to the mic for a disastrous performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Not even thirty seconds into the song, Platten restarted twice after forgetting the words, apologizing to the crowd, and asking them to help her out with the next line. Needless to say, she certainly had to fight to get through this song.
In 2014, Staind lead singer Aaron Lewis took the field in San Francisco, California to perform “The Star Spangled Banner” before Game 5 of the World Series. Lewis, who notably criticized Christina Aguilera’s 2011 flubbed rendition, messed up the lyrics of the anthem not even thirty seconds into the song... and then continued to do so throughout. On top of that, his vocals were flat and off-pitch for this botched rendition of the classic.
At a 2008 Dallas Cowboys game, then-aspiring pop star Kat DeLuna delivered a tragic rendition of the national anthem. While she appeared to be in high spirits, the “Whine Up” songstress struggled (and growled) through the difficult song with flat, off-key vocals. She received some applause during the performance, but by the end, she was sadly (and passionately) booed.
Fergie may have released the follow-up to her majorly successful debut album The Dutchess in 2018, but that was wildly overshadowed by her rendition of the national anthem at the NBA All-Star game the same year. The jazzy, sexy, and basically rewritten rendition became an instant meme, aided in part by crowd shots of players as well as celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Chance the Rapper holding back laughter... or failing to do so. Fergie took the failed rendition in good spirits (“I honestly tried my best,” she said in a statement.), but unfortunately for her, it will live on forever as one of the most entertainingly bad national anthem renditions of all time.
Long before her infamous racist tweets, once-beloved sitcom star Roseanne Barr offended many Americans with her shocking rendition of the national anthem at a 1990 San Diego Padres game. The non-singer began the performance by screaming her way through it, plugging her ears to drown out the instant-booing from the crowd. Clearly not caring about the crowd’s reaction, Barr laughed as she sang the song, and she even spit on the ground to end it.