One of these performances stood out as worse than any other public performance of the song and it was sung with the original arrangement. In July of 1990, Roseanne Barr performed the song before a Padres/Reds baseball game in San Diego. Now, Roseanne is a comedian, not a singer. She went out and more or less yelled the song with a bit of a tune to make it recognizable and upon finishing the song, she grabbed her crotch and then spit before walking off the field.
There have been a lot of bad performances of the song but Roseanne's became known as the absolutely worst ever and a case could be made for that opinion. Here is what Roseanne's version sounded like on that day:
So for 28 years Roseanne bore the title of the worst national anthem singer of all time... that is, until yesterday.
Roseanne received some competition for the title at the NBA All-Star game. Fergie, of Black Eyed Peas fame, brought back the old self arrangements of the song and brought the bar to a new high for the title. As Fergie sang The Star Spangled Banner, you could see not only fans at the game, but the players themselves trying very hard not to break out in laughter. See if you can keep from at least a little chuckle while listening to her performance:
To compare an example of a great performance of the national anthem, one has only to look a year after Roseanne butchered it. It was the Super Bowl when the late Whitney Houston set the bar for one of the greatest public performances of the song of all time. To many, it is the standard by which all other performances should be compared:
So I decided to try to decide which version was worse, Roseanne or Fergie. This was not an esay excersize to work through. For one thing, I put my brain through listening to each version several times.
Let's take quick comparison of these two performances. We can look at Roseanne and say "She is a comedian, not a singer" and we can look at Fergie and say the opposite "She is a singer, not a comedian." That is all well and good but a strange thing happened. When Roseanne, the comedian, sang the song the crowd let out a chorus of boos even before the crotch grap and spit. When Fergie, the singer, was performing the work it took for everyone to not burst out in laughter was quite evident. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Roseanne was herself during her performance. She did not arrange the song differently, but sang it more or less the way it was written (I use the word "sang" loosely here). Fergie took all of her musical talent and ability to arrange the song to her liking and performed it intentionally to a horrible outcome. She put a lot of theatrics into her performance in order to make it more dramatic? I suppose.
After the the performance was finished Roseanne grabbed her crotch and spit on the ground. Fergie on the other hand shouted out "Let's play some basketball!!!" Now we could take Roseanne's gestures as disrespectful to the anthem and to the country. I choose not to. Looking at the two performances, grabbing of the crotch and spitting are an integral part of baseball. Next time you watch a baseball game, try to count how many times players spit and "adjust" their pants. I promise you it is a lot. So I choose to see Roseanne's gestures as her way of saying "Play Ball" which is far more American than the announcer at a basketball game saying "Let's play some basketball". I don't think I have ever heard that at a basketball game but 99.999% of the time at a baseball game, the umpire or the announcer will say "PLAY BALL".
The booing of the crowd in San Diego makes me think that perhaps the fans were not taking Roseanne as a comedian doing a bit, but rather as someone who was trying to sing the anthem the way it was written and failed miserably. However the laughter at Fergie's serious attempt at performing the song made the crowd see her as a musician making a fool of herself.
MY conclusion ... congratulations Roseanne, you are no longer the worst performer ever to sing the Star Spangled Banner in a public forum. You aren't Whitney Houston of course, but you sure aren't Fergie either.