The 67th NBA All-Star Game is set to take place Sunday (Feb. 18), and with the return of the event to Los Angeles, it’s hard not to remember perhaps the most iconic performance of the national anthem that took place there 35 years ago.
That honor belongs to the late Marvin Gaye, who stepped up to a microphone at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. before the 1983 All-Star Game and delivered what can only be described as a unique rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Smooth, sexy, and marked with unusual phrasing and timing, Gaye’s reimagined version blew the crowd away with its cool and assured delivery.
Things, of course, were not as smooth for the Motown legend behind the scenes. He was riding high on the massive success of his 1982 hit “Sexual Healing,” but was also coasting an unstable road with a growing cocaine addiction. Rehearsals prior to the game were uneven, and the show’s organizers were reportedly terrified he wouldn’t be able to pull the anthem off.
Gaye put those concerns to rest. But, sadly, he would be gone just one year later, being fatally shot by his father on April 1, 1984.
Gaye’s performance of the anthem stands out as a jewel, even within his large and much-lauded body of work. It also serves, 35 years later, as a point of meditation: In America’s current politically charged climate, with an especial laser focus on the national anthem and its place at sporting events — how would such a reimagination of the classic be received today?
The traditional performance of the American and Canadian national anthems has long been a highlight of the All-Star Game; in past years, A-listers ranging from Destiny’s Child to John Legend have handled the U.S. version. This year, it’ll be pop queen Fergie doing the honors, with Canadians the Barenaked Ladies presenting “O Canada.”
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