Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 7, 2013

MARK MAYNARD: Oh say can you sing?

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — There was a lot to like about Sunday’s Super Bowl, not the least being it was another good game to watch. We’re starting to expect that part of it.

But you don’t get many versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” delivered more eloquently than Alicia Keys did prior to kickoff. It was a lot different than some of the high-flying vocal affairs of past Super Bowls, some so high you don’t recognize the tune by the time they’re finished because your ears are hurting.

Whitney Houston set the perfect pitched standard of the high notes with her singing of the anthem at the Super Bowl in Tampa in 1991. Now that was something else.

But Keys’ rendition was different. She sat at the piano and crooned slowly at the start of the difficult number, handling the words with deliberate care. I was watching a little more intently after hearing about a prop bet on the Super Bowl with the over/under for the length of the national anthem being 2 minutes and 20 seconds (Yes, it’s true, they’ll bet on anything at the Super Bowl).

I could tell from watching Keys that the winner was going to be “the over” and the stopwatch on my iPhone confirmed it. The song was 2 minutes and 46 seconds — maybe the longest rendition in Super Bowl history. But it may also have been the most memorable in recent years.

Keys exuded a soft and breathy tone and seemed relaxed considering the occasion. She showed uncommon restraint at the start and then slowly built to a strong climax. Here’s a suggestion: They should just let her sing it every year.

Of course, that was after there wasn’t a dry eye in the dome after a touching rendition of “America the Beautiful,” performed by Sandy Hook Elementary School students, with substantial help from Jennifer Hudson.

They really know how to start a party.

The national anthem isn’t an easy song, as most who know how to sing will tell you.

I remember talking to Stephen Salyers after he sang at a Cincinnati Reds game a few years ago on Ashland Day at Great American Ball Park. He had to turn in a taped version of the song in advance and it had to be a certain length. Salyers was allowed some practice time before the real thing, and it had to be within that time window, too (and let me tell you, it wasn’t 2 minutes and 46 seconds).

The talented Salyers did a wonderful job, as you’d expect, even though he admitted to me he was a little nervous and sang the anthem time and time again on the way to the park. A major league ballpark is a pretty enormous stage even for those who are used to singing in large public venues.

When I was in sports and covering high school basketball games on a regular basis there were many local singers, many of them students, who tried their hand at the national anthem with varying degrees of success.

Colleague Rocky Stanley remembered a game when the singer completely forgot the words while singing a capella. He simply handed the microphone back to the PA man at the scorer’s table and walked out of the gym. That can happen. Like I said, it’s not an easy song to sing solo.

At another game, a young girl who was singing the anthem forgot the words and the crowd responded by picking up where she left off. I’d give them all a collective assist and high-fives all around.

Kim Coburn’s renditions of the anthem before Ashland games were always my favorites. She can flat out sing that song — and anything else, I’m sure. It’s a treat listening to her sing the anthem.

Freelance writer Ray Schaefer, who covers games for us on a regular basis, has sung the national anthem in gyms and ballparks throughout the area for years. He probably holds the record for number of anthems sung in the 16th Region, if there were actually a record kept.

I’ve heard Ray sing and he does an outstanding job, too. He knows his way around a microphone, not to mention his way to Sandy Hook, West Liberty, Flemingsburg and other 16th Region outposts.

Of course, he’s no Alicia Keys, whose remarkable performance on Sunday may be the new standard for the national anthem.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.