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A Post-4th Treat: R. Kelly Sings the National Anthem

Chicago’s infamous R&B genius gives “The Star-Spangled Banner” the cheeseball R. Kelly treatment. Plus: Lou Rawls shows us how it’s actually done.

I was discussing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with some folks today, and heard the usual complaint: it’s not only not all that great a song, it’s difficult as well, and as a result it’s hard to do well. But that’s why I like it—every sporting event is like a little American Idol. When a singer can get through it without bombing or trying the audience’s patience with look-at-me coloratura, it makes it that much more transcendent.

While looking for the ultimate evidence to prove my point, Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, I stumbled across something I didn’t know existed: R. Kelly doing our national anthem. While that probably, rightfully gives you the fantods, he is a good singer and sometimes a very good arranger, so I was curious to see how he handled it.

The answer: imagine how R. Kelly-esque (cheeseball “I Believe I Can Fly” R. Kelly, not sex-freak “Ignition” R. Kelly) a version of the national anthem could be. Then double that. Is there a breakdown? In “The Star-Spangled Banner"? There is when R. Kelly does it.

Yes, it’s terrible, as terrible as you would expect “R. Kelly singing the national anthem in Vegas” to be. But it’s terrible in interesting ways, which I prefer to things that are good in uninteresting ways.

To clear your palate, here’s recent honorary-street-recipient Lou Rawls doing a classy, conservative version at the 1982 World Series.

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