From My Perspective: February 9, 2011

 Our National Anthem

By Joseph S. Bonsall


As you may know, I have been singing with the American music group, The Oak Ridge Boys, since October of 1973. My singing partners, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, Richard Sterban, and I have been afforded many honors over the course of our long career. One of the most meaningful honors was the appointment of the Music Educators National Conference to be their spokesman for the prestigious National Anthem Project over a three-year span.

The purpose of the project was to educate young people about the history and importance of our Star Spangled Banner. One of the reasons we were selected was our vast experience at performing the anthem for decades at major events all over the United States. MENC was also respectful of our patriotism and love of country.

So, as an experienced anthem singer, I would like to shed some light on how to sing the anthem. The anthem is NOT a song that one performs, as if it were a single from your latest recording project. It should be sung robustly and simply, and the audience should always be encouraged to remove their hats and to sing along.

In this day and age, the opportunity for an artist to perform at a major event is seen as a public relations move as much as anything, and indeed it is. The Super Bowl was the most-watched event in history and, with the social media, the blogosphere, and the 24-hour news services being what they are, a flub of any kind is magnified and becomes a trending tropic. By getting lost in the moment and missing some vital words, Ms. Christina Aguilera has been harpooned for days on end.

Does anyone remember Robert Goulet? He was a very prolific singer and actor who passed away in 2007. He was known for Camelot, and his biggest hit may have been a song called My Love Forgive Me. But he ran into trouble when he blew the anthem. Go to Wikipedia and you will read this… ‘On May 25, 1965, Goulet mangled the lyrics to the United States National Anthem at the opening of the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston heavyweight championship fight in Lewiston, Maine. Goulet had never sung the anthem in public before and replaced the lyrics “dawn's early light” with “dawn's early night.” The gaffe was reported in newspapers nationwide the next morning, and Goulet was criticized in opinion columns for a lack of knowledge of the lyric.’

I was in high school at the time and, even without the Internet, Goulet took it hard on the chin. He was never forgotten for the faux pas.

We have a much shorter attention span now, so Ms. Aguilera’s blunder will fade quickly, but I think it will stay with her resume forever.

Christina seems like a very cool girl, and she is, indeed, one of our best singers. I am certain she was prepared for this performance but perhaps shaken by the moment. To be honest, I have felt sorry for her throughout the coverage because, unlike Roseanne Barr who was being disrespectful on purpose, Ms. Aguilera seemed very sorry.

But the lesson is still quite clear. If you are invited to sing the anthem at the Super Bowl or a high school game…it is imperative to be prepared to do it correctly.

Living in Nashville, we see a constant parade of country stars and such singing our anthem before Titans’ and Predators’ games, and most artists do the song and the moment justice. However, there are those who will seize upon the moment to show off their vocal skills and make the performance all about THEM, instead of honoring our country and our flag. Many times they will bask in the applause of the ‘land of the free,’ not even realizing that the crowd is cheering because it is almost over!

So, as a former spokesman for the National Anthem Project, I implore you to educate yourself and learn more about our treasured song. When you sing it…sing it proudly And DON’T FLUB the LYRICS!