Gladys Knight didn’t just play any hometown gig on Sunday, February 3: She sang the national anthem in front of thousands of spectators at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and millions of viewers watching at home to kick off Super Bowl LIII.
As the 74-year-old belted out a soulful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a white dress, deaf activist Aarron Loggins interpreted the anthem into American Sign Language on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf.
“I am proud to use my voice to unite and represent our country in my hometown of Atlanta,” Knight said in a statement earlier this month. “The NFL recently announced their new social justice platform Inspire Change, and I am honored to be a part of its inaugural year.”
The Empress of Soul also reflected on the honor in an NFL video released at the time. “I hope that this anthem will touch people in a different way,” she said. “We’ve been singing it forever, but this time I would hope that [people] will feel it so deeply that it will lift them to a higher place. That’s what I feel when I sing this song. This is who we are, this is how we are and this is what we do. Get ready, Atlanta. I’m coming home!”
Knight’s decision to perform at the big game came with controversy related to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, however. Kaepernick, 31, filed an official grievance against the NFL in October 2017, alleging that teams had colluded to keep him off the field after he kneeled during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Kaepernick’s attorney recently said the performers at Super Bowl LIII are “crossing an intellectual picket line” and “saying to themselves, ‘I care more about my career than whether what I’m doing is right.’”
In an interview with Today, the seven-time Grammy winner responded to the controversy with patriotic sentiments. “I can only say how much I feel … about the country itself and my family, and like I said, those family members of mine that are risking their lives and their futures … to make this a better world, not just a country,” she told Today host Craig Melvin on Thursday, January 31. “So I felt like I could do my part.”
Later in the game, Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Big Boi will perform the halftime show. Us Weekly previously revealed that Rihanna and Pink were among the artists who turned down the headlining gig in support of Kaepernick.
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