Correction: The article misidentified a group of singers at the 2009 ceremony. The national anthem was sung by enlisted members of the U.S. Navy Band, not midshipmen. This version has been corrected.
Before she sings for a TV audience of an umpteen-kerzillion at next month’s Super Bowl halftime show, Beyonce has booked herself a warm-up gig on the chilly steps of the U.S. Capitol. She’ll appear at President Obama’s Jan. 21 inauguration ceremony to perform the national anthem.
Go ahead and scan American pop music’s starry skies — you’ll find no better choice. At Obama’s first inauguration, “Star-Spangled Banner” duties were handled by enlisted members of the U.S. Navy Band. Beyonce is a smart pick to fill their shiny shoes. With a voice that rarely sacrifices poise for power, she can own a song while making it feel as though it ultimately belongs to the crowd. She’s sometimes stately, always steely — a superstar whom few truly know, but multitudes feel deeply comfortable with. (She’s not unlike the Obamas, in that sense.)
She’s no stranger to the first couple. At 2009’s Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, at the Washington Convention Center, the president and first lady Michelle Obama swayed with big smiles as Beyonce sang for their first dance, an Etta James-inspired rendition of “At Last.”
Since then, the 31-year-old has thrown her voice into the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative against childhood obesity. Along with her husband, rap superstar Jay-Z, she hosted an Obama reelection campaign fundraiser in September that reportedly raised a cool $4 million.
Beyonce won’t be the only voice at the inauguration ceremony. On Wednesday, organizers also announced performances by James Taylor, whose eternal calm could feel surreal on a toxic Capitol Hill, and Kelly Clarkson — an “American Idol” winner, a belter of triumphal pop hits and a pop star who once tweeted her admiration for Ron Paul and was pulled into a social-media miasma over it. Taylor is scheduled to sing “America the Beautiful,” and Clarkson will handle “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”
Expect prim and proper and pompy. But there’s one reason to keep your ears pricked. When it comes to pop singers and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the late Whitney Houston’s performance at the 1991 Super Bowl is widely considered the gold standard. Could Beyonce top it on Inauguration Day?
Our national anthem routinely provides an otherwise rare chance to sing along with thousands of strangers, but this time, you might just want to sit back and listen.