If you thought the performance and singing of the National Anthem, aka, "The Star-Spangled Banner," was a time-honored Kentucky Derby tradition, then let me help you win your next trivia night with this intriguing factoid. Although the National Anthem is a staple at American sporting events, The Kentucky Derby, one of the oldest American sporting events of them all, only just made the singing of the National Anthem a tradition back in 2009. When classically trained musician Josh Groban sings the National Anthem at Churchill Downs Saturday, he will become just the seventh artist to do so in The Kentucky Derby's long and illustrious history. Among those who came before Groban are Mary J. Blige, Jordin Sparks, and LeAnn Rimes (the first to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Derby).
While Groban's astounding voice has not failed him so far, the National Anthem is a notoriously tricky song to sing, as his Kentucky Derby predecessors prove. Hopefully, Groban watched the six performances that came before his to see what works (and doesn't) before he kicks off the Derby with a song that is longer than the two-minute main event of the race. Before Groban's voice starts booming across Churchill Downs, let us take a look back at the performances of the brave muscians who went before him.
Lee Ann Rimes (2009)
Though the Grammy Winner doesn't quite project her voice at the beginning of the song, she definitely hits those high notes later — and, as the first up to bat, I have to cut her some slack. A horse racetrack probably doesn't have much in the way of acoustics.
Rascal Flatts (2010)
This is an undoubtedly different take on "The Star-Spangled Banner" — it's usually not a song sung by more than one performer at once.
Jordin Sparks (2011)
Sparks gets a thousand bonus points for donning a hat. Not only does she honor Derby tradition, but her voice stays strong and clear throughout the song (even during those super tricky high notes). Hopefully, Groban took notes from Sparks, because she totally nailed it.
Mary J. Blige (2012)
Blige's style is on point. Can we take a moment to appreciate her super amazing look? Now on to the performance: Blige takes "The Star-Spangled Banner" to a whole new level. Her voice is rich and booming, and it fills the track and kicks off the festivities in a big way. Blige appears to be the first performer who realized it's not just about how the song is sung, it is also about the tone you set for the race.
Martina McBride (2013)
Though McBride's take on the National Anthem is a safe one, think of it this way — safe is better than being crazy awful.
Jo Dee Messina (2014)
Note the serious wind interference in this one — Messina is actually clutching her hat to her head at the beginning.