The story behind Whitney Houston’s iconic Star-Spangled Banner Performance

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“The Star-Spangled Banner” will be heard from sea to shining sea when America celebrates its 242nd Independence Day this July 4. As rousing as many of those performances will surely be, the version of the National Anthem that’s still ringing in the nation’s collective ears is Whitney Houston’s immortal live rendition at Super Bowl XXV in February 1991. At the time that the singer stepped up to the mic, Operation Desert Storm—when American military forces touched down in the Persian Gulf—was a mere 10 days old, providing a dramatic backdrop for Houston’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance.

2 minutes and 15 seconds later, her performance instantly became the stuff of legend and forms the centerpiece of the new documentary, Whitney, which opens in theaters on July 6. “She forever changed the way that song is sung,” director Kevin Macdonald says, simply. “And, more importantly, the way it’s understood. She turned it from being a song about oppression and military might into a song that was celebrating freedom.” (Watch our video interview above.)

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