More than 30 years later, Whitney Houston’s stirring Super Bowl performance still resonates

Whitney Houston sings the National Anthem during the pregame show at Super Bowl XXV while tens of thousands of football fans wave tiny American flags in an incredible outburst of patriotism during the Persian Gulf War on 01/27/1991. (Photo by Michael Zagaris) (Getty Images)

The late Whitney Houston gave the world many great musical moments with all her talents, but arguably the biggest gift of all came over 30 years ago during Super Bowl XV in Tampa.

Asked to sing the national anthem before the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants kicked off at the old Tampa Stadium, Houston gave such a stirring rendition that people around the world asked for copies of her version, and many felt it was one of the best live musical performances ever.

To listen to Houston’s performance on YouTube, click or tap here.

But there was one major twist to Houston’s rendition.

It wasn’t actually live.

Some background

The game was played under a tense backdrop on Jan. 27, 1991, as 10 days earlier, the United States and other nations declared war on Iraq for its invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

Due to the Persian Gulf War, security was at an all-time high for the game and patriotism was everywhere as people supported the nation’s troops.

Houston was asked three months earlier to sing the anthem at the Super Bowl, and she and her team decided to perform a more slowed-down version of the song, in the process incorporating more jazz, blues and gospel elements, according to ESPN.

It was also decided by Houston and her team that the song would be prerecorded and lip-synced during the performance before the game, something the National Football League actually didn’t have a problem with.

But there was another issue the NFL had with the song.

A performance for the ages

After a version of the song was taped by the Florida Orchestra in Tampa in early January 1991, Houston then recorded the accompanying vocal version in Los Angeles a week later, which she did in just one take, according to ESPN.

The NFL then requested to hear the version, and didn’t like it, saying it was too slow and difficult to sing along with.

Word of the NFL’s request to record the song again made way to Houston’s father and manager, John, who briefly and sternly told the NFL there would be no rerecording.

So the show went on as planned once the day of the game arrived, and little did anyone know the level of history about to be made.

Houston was originally going to wear a black cocktail dress for the performance, but after the weather cooled off more than expected that night, she opted for a tracksuit and sneakers, according to Essence.

Houston, who was 27 at the time, took to the tiny stage and lashed out her golden vocal cords into a dead mic as her prerecorded version was heard loud and clear all across the stadium and in living rooms around the world.

The aftermath

The response to Houston’s rendition to the anthem was so overwhelming that Arista Records released it as a single that became a top-20 hit.

Many feel that Houston’s performance was the best version of the national anthem at a sporting event, ever.

High school athletic directors all across the country still like to use Houston’s rendition of the anthem before events. Radio stations to this day often play Houston’s version when they want to have “The Star-Spangled Banner” on their airwaves.

Feb. 11 will mark 10 years since Houston passed away at the age of 48, and she no doubt is still celebrated as a pop icon for her role in movies and hit songs such as “I Will Always Love You,” “Saving All My Love for You” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

But decades later, perhaps Houston’s rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl is what continues to carry on her legacy the most.

This story was first published in 2021. It has since been updated.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.