It's hard to imagine kicking off an NFL Championship game without a popular recording artist showing off their vocal ability in a rendition of the National Anthem. Even those who aren't tuned into the sports world can't escape the following day's public dissection of each year's performance. It's a cultural touchstone in and of itself. But before the year 1982, the NFL had yet to discover the impact this tradition would go on to have.
Today - January 24th - in 1982, the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals went head-to-head. But not before Diana Ross walked onto the freezing field at Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome and became the first pop artist to perform the National Anthem at a Championship game.
It's worth mentioning that in 1980 Charlie's Angels actress Cheryl Ladd sang the anthem at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. This is technically the start of inviting professional recording artists to sing at sporting events. Ladd gave a beautiful performance but it just didn't have the same impact as Ross' performance had two years later. Partly because the camera spends most of the time on the crowd and players and partly because Ladd is accompanied by the Los Angeles City High School Choir.
Clad in a patriotic, glittery tracksuit Diana Ross invited the crowd to sing along as she delivered a pitch perfect a capella rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."
Before Ross, the NFL typically invited marching bands, choirs, and the occasional professional singer to commence championship games. Never before had a star of such caliber been asked to perform at the event. The 16th Championship game also happened to be one of the most watched broadcasts in American television history. More than 85 million viewers watched Diana Ross sing that day and it set a standard for both the future of the Championship game and pop singers. Stars like Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow went on to sing the U.S. anthem. It added to the game's cultural appeal and became a make-or-break gig for popular artists.
From the star players, the highly coveted 30-second ads, the Half-time Show, and now the National Anthem, the Championship game is an all-consuming pop cultural event. So, when you tune in to see Demi Lovato take on "The Star Spangled Banner," you can thank Diana Ross for that.
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