Aretha Franklin performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Thanksgiving Day football game between the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings Thursday afternoon. And, as, the Queen of Soul usually does, she stole the show.
Accompanying herself on piano, with an organist laying down gentle swells underneath, the Detroit native took her sweet (and how sweet!) time with the national anthem. Franklin stretched out for nearly five minutes, lingering passionately over each word. By contrast, when she sang the anthem at Harvard's commencement ceremony in 2014, it was a full minute and a half shorter.
The national anthem has been the subject of contentious discussion in the world of sports this year. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew both strong criticism and floods of support when he chose not to stand during the anthem at preseason games this summer; he said the gesture was to protest the oppression of minorities in the U.S.
Since then, several performers called upon to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sports games have shown solidarity with the spirit of Kaepernick's protest. In October, Denasia Lawrence knelt, wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, as she sang the anthem at a Miami Heat game. A few days later, R&B singer Sevyn Streeter was told she could not perform the anthem at a Philadelphia 76ers game wearing a "We Matter" jersey. (Streeter is set to perform at the 76ers' Dec. 16 home game, wearing the jersey.)
In that context, Franklin's performance Thursday felt like its own form of protest. As she elongated, adorned and purposefully inhabited each line, it was as though she was reclaiming the anthem for black people and other minorities who have called America home through that perilous fight.