Before Black America knelt for the national anthem, Whitney reconstructed it into a rendition for the ages at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Sporting a white jumpsuit and Nike Cortez sneakers as people wept in the stands, her rendition slowed the notoriously difficult-to-sing anthem down to 4/4 time. It was an interpretation that proved so popular, it became an unplanned top-20 hit and charity single, with radio stations initially airing the song from recordings of the broadcast. In some ways, this should have been predictable: If there is one thing Whitney can do in her sleep, it’s create an anthem that rouses people across the world.
Three years before this iconic moment, for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, she did the same for “One Moment in Time,” a song that ends in a triumphant swell of, “I will be free.” In her version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Whitney similarly seems to refashion the “land of the free” into a demand instead of descriptive statement, all with a brilliant soaring melisma up to the E-flat note above middle C at the end of the measure, which she’s able to hold for two extra counts, like a liberty bell ringing. What is an anthem if not a testimony or an ultimate expression of faith?