To the best of The Daily Maverick’s knowledge, the real, authentic people were in place in Washington, DC on Monday at noon. But, the horror of horrors, Beyoncé (Knowles-Carter) didn’t actually sing the National Anthem, live, in front of hundreds of thousands of people on that special afternoon after all. Will the scandal mar President Obama's second term and turn it into a failure? The world will never be the same. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
The story is being closely watched by international news television channels, social media, newspapers and news magazines, all of which are closely following the rhythm of this musical miscue. At this point, the topic is hotter than Michelle Obama’s new hairstyle and her coat or her inaugural ball gown; about whether Vice President Joe Biden is making all the right moves to jump-start his campaign to succeed Barack Obama as president (after all, America’s next presidential election is less than four years away); or whether Hillary Clinton will throw her hat into the ring and try to grab the prize instead. And it is a bigger story right now than whom the Republicans will eventually settle on as their campaign champion, assuming they don’t take up their positions once again in a circular firing squad – just like they managed to do during the last election.
For now, at least, the real source of Beyoncé’s actual sound at the inauguration seems more important than what, specifically, Barack Obama promised to accomplish over the next four years as president. In fact, by Wednesday afternoon, SkyNews was carrying an extended story on the inauguration – but the only story element was Beyoncé’s vocal cord malfunction.
Here at The Daily Maverick, meanwhile, we pledge this will be the last inauguration story we will write, lest someone finds incontrovertible proof the whole thing took place on a sound stage in Hollywood with actors and body doubles, or it came via holographic transmissions from the Sea of Tranquillity. However, we would be remiss in our duty as hardboiled media types if we didn’t dig a bit deeper into the Beyoncé saga.
When the vast audience of nearly a million people first heard the singing of the National Anthem right after the president’s address, the singer’s rendition – complete with diva-style melisma and spine-chilling trills – garnered overwhelming praise. Business Insider’s comment was that “It was just amazing” and TMZ’s even more graphic response was that it was “f*cking awesome”, just to note a few.
Watch: Beyoncé sings the US anthem
But then, the veil began to slip. There were growing news reports that close observers of the singing from their positions near the podium told the media it appeared Beyoncé was not singing live. And for some members of the media situated just below the podium, right in front of the US Marine Corps Band that was supposedly accompanying the supposed singing, it was also evident the band wasn’t actually playing the music either — even though its conductor, Colonel Michael J Colburn, was vigorously conducting band members who were enthusiastically mimicking their performances. Then too, there was the smoking gun, or rather, the tell-tale earpiece. Right towards the end of her performance, Beyoncé dramatically removed her earpiece so that she was no longer even monitoring her own sound.
In fact, a hint as to what is now inevitably labelled “Beyoncé’s blunder” (but not yet Beyoncé-gate) actually was of her own making. On 20 January, one day prior to the public ceremony, she posted several suspicious pictures to her Instagram account. One was of her in a recording studio, holding a copy of the sheet music to the National Anthem, posed just in front of a microphone connected to recording equipment. In a second shot, she is sitting in front of recording equipment while members of the Marine Corps Band, holding sheet music, stand behind her.
Now, miming a pre-recorded track isn’t exactly unprecedented – even for a presidential inaugural. Four years ago, in absolutely bone-chillingly frigid weather, the music, “Air and Simple Gifts”, performed by cellist Yo Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman at Obama’s first inaugural, was also very beautifully performed – and pre-recorded. The excuse given at that time was that the arctic weather would have ruined the sound quality of the music had it been performed live, because it would adversely affect both the instruments and the ability of the two musicians to play to their usual high standard. Nonetheless, this is – to the best of anyone’s knowledge – the first time anyone has ever done a lip-sync of The Star Spangled Banner during an inaugural performance – regardless of the temperature or wind chill factor.
As the story began to come out, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Gregory Wolf said, “Regarding Ms Knowles-Carter’s vocal performance, no one in the Marine Band is in a position to assess whether it was live or pre-recorded.” But later on, Capt. Eric Flanagan, spokesman for the band, said the Presidential Inaugural Committee had originally asked the band to perform with the singer, but because “there was no opportunity for Ms. Knowles-Carter to rehearse,” they decided a live performance was “ill-advised.” The Marine Corps Band spokesman added that “We don’t know why Beyoncé decided to use pre-recorded music. All music [for inaugural ceremonies] is pre-recorded as a matter of course, and that’s something we’ve done for years and years. The Marine Band did perform live throughout the ceremony but we received last-minute word that Beyoncé wanted to use the recording.” This spokesperson went on to try to smooth things over by saying everyone knows Beyoncé is a gifted singer, and that her decision had no bearing on her musical ability. But still…
Then, later, the band’s conductor added that he couldn’t confirm whether or not Beyoncé was actually singing, but he did say the band and the singer had decided Sunday night to use a pre-recorded music track, since they were unable to coordinate a time for a full rehearsal. He added, “She wasn’t comfortable performing without a rehearsal, and I wasn’t comfortable with that either. We always knew that was a possibility.” In fact, every one of the singers in the inauguration had a “safety” track ready, just in case weather or instrument problems popped up at the last second. It should be noted, however, that Kelly Clarkson did actually sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” live at the ceremony and she knocked ‘em dead with her performance.
Watch: Kelly Clarkson Sings ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ at Inauguration Day 2013
Actually, anthem mishaps have an infamous history – although never before at a presidential inaugural, as far as is known. Back when The Daily Maverick first began publication, South Africa had just had its own anthem catastrophe when reggae singer Ras Dumisani provided his astounding rendition of the country’s national song to a stadium full of rugby fans in France. Looking into the matter further, The Daily Maverick found an extraordinary history of anthem meltdowns over the years, including some capricious, arbitrary changes in the words and music by performers. Our story, “Ras Dumisani, The Star Mangled Banner and other Sour Notes” details this history.
Lest we get too excited about this music malfunction, it is probably just as well to remember the president was not exactly taking his oath of office “live” while facing the crowd from the west side of the Capitol Building on Monday at noon. He had already taken the real thing on Sunday, 20 January, in accord with the Constitution, and so Monday’s oath taking was just for the crowds and television audiences.
This whole thing could be made a lot easier, of course, if the US would simply amend its Constitution to change elections to the beginning of summer and inaugurations to a reasonable date like the Fourth of July. The Mall is already set up for one big party with lots of fireworks at the ready, and no musician would ever again be able to complain it was too cold for their pipes. Just saying. DM
Photo: Beyonce ‘sings’ the National Anthem during inauguration ceremonies held for U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.