NPR logo

Anthem Singers Test 'the Land of the Free'

Only Available in Archive Formats.
Anthem Singers Test 'the Land of the Free'

Music

Anthem Singers Test 'the Land of the Free'

Only Available in Archive Formats.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Thirty-eight years ago, Game Five of the World Series also featured the Tigers and the Cardinals. The Tigers came from behind to win the game and later the Series. But it was a moment just before Game Five began in Detroit that caused a lasting sensation.

(Soundbite of song, “The Star-Spangled Banner”)

Mr. JOSE FELICIANO (Singer): (Singing) Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly -

BLOCK: Jose Feliciano singing the National Anthem on that day in 1968. As we hear in this report from Tom Goldman, The Star Spangled Banner would never be the same again.

TOM GOLDMAN: Veteran Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell was in charge of finding National Anthem singers for the 1968 World Series. One of those Harwell chose was Jose Feliciano, a young Puerto Rican performer whose version of the song Light My Fire had become a hit. That October day - Game Five - when Feliciano walked onto the field at Tiger Stadium, Ernie Harwell was with him.

Mr. ERNIE HARWELL (Sports broadcaster): And he had his guide dog and Jose, of course, wore dark glasses, because he was blind. He had what was then considered long hair. Now it wouldn't be. And he had the instrument of the hippies - the guitar. And I think a lot of people related him to the hip movement.

GOLDMAN: The hip movement in 1968 was not a term of endearment in much of the United States. Ours was a fractured country, divided by Vietnam and race relations. Against, that backdrop Jose Feliciano walked onto the field determined to sing what he says was an anthem of gratitude.

Mr. FELICIANO: There is no place like America. I mean, where else can a kid from the hills of Puerto Rico get the opportunity to be successful and to do what I like to do, which is place music.

(Soundbite of song, “The Star-Spangled Banner”)

Mr. FELICIANO: (Singing) Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets -

Mr. HARWELL: Feliciano gave a very soulful rendition, full of heart and a little bit on the bluesy, jazzy side and it caused a lot of controversy.

(Soundbite of song, “The Star-Spangled Banner”)

Mr. FELICIANO: (Singing) O'er the land and for the free and the home of the brave? Yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of applause)

GOLDMAN: For the most part, the crowd at Tiger Stadium seemed to like Feliciano's stylized performance, but many of the millions who watched on TV and listened on radio were livid. Veterans groups said Feliciano denigrated the country and the flag. Some radio stations took his records off the air. Feliciano says it was tough for about three years, but he's still proud of his groundbreaking moment in 1968.

Mr. FELICIANO: You know, I opened the doors for anybody who wants to do the Anthem to do it in their own way. And I was the first one and usually pioneers get the stones and everybody else gets the accolades. So I'm happy to get the stones.

(Soundbite of song, “The Star-Spangled Banner”)

Mr. MARVIN GAYE (Singer): (Singing) Through the perilous fight -

GOLDMAN: Since 1968, the Anthem has been taken to new heights - here by Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.

Mr. GAYE: (Singing): O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly, yeah, streaming?

(Soundbite of song, “The Star Spangled Banner”)

Ms. ROSEANNE BARR (Comedian): (Singing) And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night -

GOLDMAN: And new lows. The first President Bush called comedian Roseanne Barr's 1990 anthem disgusting and a disgrace. Others have failed, despite good intentions.

(Soundbite of song, “The Star Spangled Banner”)

Mr. CARL LEWIS (Olympic athlete): (Singing) And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night -

I'll make up for it now.

GOLDMAN: Sadly, Carl Lewis did not. The track and field star finished his 1993 rendition and proved that great athleticism does not translate to great musicality. Thankfully, at this World Series the athletes have stuck to baseball, while the anthems have been ably handled by the likes of country star Trace Atkins.

(Soundbite of song, “The Star Spangled Banner”)

Mr. TRACE ATKINS (Singer): (Singing) O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave -

GOLDMAN: Unfortunately, Atkins was drowned out by a bone rattling fly over.

Mr. ATKINS: (Singing) - land of the free and the home of the brave?

GOLDMAN: Come to think of it though, a few thunderous jets might be the way to deal with anthems that just don't measure up to a standard set so high and so personally 38 years ago.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.