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Whenever people discuss the best renditions of the National Anthem, the first one that immediately comes to mind for most people is Whitney Houston’s rendition at Super Bowl XXV. And for good reason– it was an excellent performance that showcased Houston’s incredible vocal talent and came at a time when patriotism in this country was at an all-time high after the start of the Persian Gulf War.
However, I want to take you back a week and a half before Whitney’s performance to the 1991 NHL All-Star Game in Chicago. On January 16, 1991, George H.W. Bush ordered the first aerial attacks on Kuwait and set Operation Desert Storm into action. The All-Star Game, which was played three days later, would be the first major sporting event held since the attacks were announced. All across America, citizens were swelling with emotion and patriotism as our country headed to war. And on January 19, during organist Frank Pellico and singer Wayne Messmer’s rendition of our country’s National Anthem, that emotion and patriotism manifested itself in the form of the most electrifying performance of the Star-Spangled Banner ever.
Cheering during the National Anthem had been a tradition at Blackhawks games dating back a number of years, but this was the first time everyone in the country had been exposed to it. What an impression it made. Just look at and listen to the crowd in this video. They’re loud before the song even starts and amazingly get louder as it goes on. These are red-blooded Americans expressing love for their country and support for the troops. Flags are everywhere, signs saying that our armed forces are the real all-stars are abundant, and somehow there’s a group of people who brought sparklers into the stadium. My favorite sign was the one saying there’s no flag burners here, a direct response to videos at the time showing people desecrating and incinerating Old Glory.
The video is two and a half minutes of pure intensity and emotion. There were people in the crowd that day who were in tears from being so overcome with emotion to the response to the Anthem. The deafening noise in Chicago Stadium shook the building. Personally, I get goose bumps and a little lump in my throat every time I watch this video.
It’s important to note that cheering through the anthem like this wasn’t a sign of disrespect. This wasn’t a group of raucous sports fans trying to make noise for the sake of making noise. These were people unleashing the emotions that had stirred throughout the country during a time when we needed it. After all, if you’re going to cheer a puck going into the back of a net, why wouldn’t you cheer for your country? Hell, General Norman Schwarzkopf loved the performance so much that he made sure each of his troops had a video copy of it so they could see that the folks at home had their backs 100%.
Wayne Messmer may not have the vocal chops that Whitney Houston did (Although he’s no slouch himself), but for that performance, in that environment, it was the perfect voice for our country’s National Anthem. What made it even more special was the raw energy that 18,000 US citizens packed into Chicago Stadium provided throughout the entire song. That is why this rendition will always be my favorite performance of the Star-Spangled Banner ever. Enjoy the Fourth everyone, and God bless the U.S.A..