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J.A. Adande

Getting Vocal About Anthems

October 03, 2001|J.A. Adande

The resurgent patriot in me wants to put two items at the front of the sports table. First we need to stop the singing of "God Bless America" at games before it gets mangled beyond all recognition. Next, we need to start working on a national anthem singer for the Super Bowl.

At least we have four months before Super Sunday. In the meantime, I can't take another night of hearing "God Bless America" wrecked. It's too painful. And it defeats the purpose of singing it in the first place.

It was a nice thought to add that to "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It fit the mood of the country and captured the thoughts of millions.

The only problem is, no one knows how to sing it correctly . We have numerous examples of people blowing "The Star-Spangled Banner," and that's a song we hear 200 times a year (400 for those with DirecTV). Until the last couple of weeks, most people hadn't tried to sing "God Bless America" since grade school.

I went to two Dodger games the week baseball returned and neither singer got it right. The Dodgers stayed with their originally scheduled anthem performers, but the folks who had been preparing all year to sing one song suddenly had to add another one to their repertoire.

They started well enough but kept tripping when they got to, "Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above."

I have to admit, I didn't know that line either. I doubt most of the people in the stadium did either. I'm sure that's why the lyrics were put up on the Diamond Vision screen; unfortunately, the singers had their backs to the outfield.

But I did remember the words to the most stirring part, "From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam." Too bad we can't say the same about Ginuwine. The R&B singer performed before the Bernard Hopkins-Felix Trinidad fight at Madison Square Garden Saturday night and not only did he give "God Bless America" a new tune, he created a new natural phenomenon.

His version bore no resemblance to the original tune by Irving Berlin. And he sang "from the mountains, to the prairies white with foam." Foaming prairies? Is there an epidemic of rabid gophers?

I thought I'd made a mistake, that I just didn't hear him talking about the oceans. But for some reason Ginuwine felt the need to reprise the entire song, and once again he sang, unmistakably, about the prairies white with foam.

This has to stop. Let's stick with the safe things, such as video tributes and moments of silence. Those can't be messed up. But where there is a way to mess up "God Bless America," it will happen.

From here on out, only the Philadelphia Flyers should be allowed to use their videotape of Kate Smith singing that song. All other renditions should be banned. She was such a good-luck charm for the Flyers and belted out "God Bless America" so well that they put a statue of her outside the Spectrum.

What's the only other sure thing? Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful." Charles was at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday. Dodger representatives asked him to sing "America the Beautiful," but he declined.

And we'll have to scratch him off our Super Bowl list, because he did his signature song there last year.

Unfortunately, I also have to rule out the performers of the two best renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" I ever heard.

All-time No. 1 version was Marvin Gaye, 1983 NBA All-Star game at the Forum. Sweet and soulful. It would be years before it was released commercially. When he died in 1984, I kept flipping around the different newscasts, hoping they would play it one more time. That song was so good that when CBS signed off for its final NBA telecast in 1990, they simply played Marvin over the rolling credits.

My No. 2 version featured Branford Marsalis on the saxophone and Bruce Hornsby on piano at the 1991 NBA All-Star game in Charlotte. It was during the Gulf War and was so poignant that people cried.

Whitney Houston's Super Bowl performance from that year is my No. 3. It dripped red, white and blue.

She'd be a natural choice to come back (only the Grambling University Marching Band has performed the anthem at two Super Bowls). But Houston has other issues. Put it this way: Any time you need to issue a news release to reaffirm that you're actually alive, it's not a sign that your career is going in the right direction.

The only other pop diva equivalent to Houston, Mariah Carey, is going through some struggles of her own. She did emerge to sing "Hero" on that tribute telethon, but she clearly wasn't on top of her game. And the dismal box office showings for her new movie "Glitter" can't be helping her psyche.

Christina Aguilera has a strong voice (she really brought it on in "Lady Marmalade," but I'm afraid her hairdo wouldn't make it past the security devices in place at the stadium.

Jill Scott doesn't have quite a big enough name, Alicia Keys doesn't have quite a big enough voice.

For this Super Bowl, perhaps more than ever before, the anthem singer must be dynamic, a big name, a quintessentially American singer who can get a little gospelly.

It comes down to Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. I believe that no one in America is more gifted at what they do than Stevie Wonder is at making music. But I think Aretha might be the better fit for this task.

If you have seen her on VH1's "Divas Live," you know she still has it.

We don't know the teams that will be participating (for sentiment's sake, wouldn't it be great to see the Giants and Jets?). We still don't even know the date and location of the Super Bowl.

But there can't be a better choice to sing the national anthem than Aretha Franklin.

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com.

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