Ten days after the United States went to war in the Persian Gulf, Whitney Houston performed the greatest rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in sports history.
On Jan. 27, 1991, Houston took the field at Tampa Stadium prior to Super Bowl XXV to sing the national anthem. The US was at war in Iraq and the game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills was serving as a welcome respite from the televised reports of scud bombs and cease fires.
The pop star had recorded the vocal weeks before in a Los Angeles studio and lip-synched the song at the Super Bowl, but few in the crowd of 73,000 or the 110 million watching at home seemed to notice. Houston's gospel-infused performance and her soaring vocals, all set to the patriotic backdrop of flags and flyovers, are the standard against which all anthems are compared. It's as close to perfect as a human voice can get.
The beauty of Houston's version is in her restraint. Other vocalists try to make "The Star-Spangled Banner" their own with unnecessary flourishes and self-indulgent arrangements. Whitney let the song stand on its own. She just sang the heck out of it.
Houston had agreed to sing the song a year earlier, long before most Americans had heard of Kuwait. She arranged the song with her musical director Ricky Minor, who later became well known for his same role on "American Idol." It went on to become the fastest-selling single in her record label's history and raised over $500,000 for the American Red Cross.
"I think it was a time when Americans needed to believe in our country." Houston said later that year. "I remember standing there and looking at all those people, and it was like I could see in their faces the hopes and prayers and fears of the entire country."
The famed singer died Saturday at a Beverly Hills hotel. She was 48.