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Gladys Knight opened the Super Bowl with a powerful national anthem

Gladys Knight opened the Super Bowl with a powerful national anthem
Gladys Knight sings the national anthem at Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Erik S. Lesser / EPA-EFE / Rex)

Gladys Knight opened Super Bowl LIII with an assured rendition of the national anthem that showed how strong her sturdy soul singer’s voice remains at 74 years old.

But was that enough for her?

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Ahead of Sunday’s game, which has been clouded for months by controversy related to the NFL’s handling of players’ protests, the veteran R&B star responded to criticism of her choice to sing by saying that the anthem and the fight for social justice “should each stand alone.”

Her hope, she added in a widely circulated statement, was that her performance would allow Americans to “move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us.”

That seemed unlikely when Knight said it last month. But it feels even more impossible now, after word broke just prior to kickoff that the rapper 21 Savage had been taken into custody by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Clearly, music and politics are as closely entwined as could be; if anything, the forceful way Knight elongated the word “free” in her performance at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium only emphasized that very point.

Ditto the sight of two more talented black women, the sister duo Chloe x Halle, delivering “America the Beautiful” on Sunday in tightly braided vocal harmony that conjured thoughts of family and solidarity.

So, no — the Super Bowl’s pre-game entertainment didn’t realize Knight’s vision of tradition unshadowed by struggle.

But who really wants that anyway?

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