Country star Chris Stapleton made the national anthem a simple affair at Super Bowl 57, standing alone on the field accompanied by only his electric guitar as he sang "The Star Spangled Banner" moments before the Kansas City Chiefs kickoff to the Philadelphia Eagles to start the game.
Dressed simply in smooth black denim and sunglasses, with neatly combed hair instead of his signature feathered cowboy hat, he sang the anthem as a plaintive ballad, picking it up to rock only briefly as he delivered the final lines "banner yet wave" and "land of the free!"
Keep scrolling for photos from the Super Bowl 57 pregame
His anthem felt slow, but it clocked in at 2 minutes, 2 seconds, under the 2 minutes, 5 seconds predicted by oddsmakers. But it was more than 10 seconds longer than last year's sung by another country star, Mickey Guyton.
As the eight-time Grammy winner sang, "CODA" star Troy Kotsur, the first deaf man to win an acting Oscar, signed the anthem lyrics.
Before Stapleton's anthem, "Abbot Elementary" star Sheryl Lee Ralph performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
Wearing a flowing red velvet gown, Ralph began the song dubbed the Black national anthem as a reflective ballad, and it became a soaring hymn as it went on, with military-style drums joining her and a choir dressed all in white chiming in behind her on the field at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
And R&B legend Babyface delivered "America the Beautiful" as a soulful folk song, playing an acoustic guitar painted with an American flag and blue flowers as he stood alone on the field. A backing track with drum machines and singers kicked in before he was done.
Chris Stapleton’s Soulful, Bluesy National Anthem Performance Draws Tears From Players on Field
Singing the other pregame standards, a mellow Babyface and exuberant Sheryl Lee Ralph landed on opposite ends of the performance-intensity 50-yard line.
Chris Stapleton’s turn at singing the National Anthem at Super Bowl LVII represented the third consecutive year in which a country artist has sung all or part of the pre-game song, following Mickey Guyton in 2022 and Eric Church doing it as a duet with R&B star Jazmine Sullivan the year before. But Stapleton confirmed what many of his fans already know — that he’s at least as much a classic blues singer as he is a country stylist.
Stapleton is the last singer to ever overtly milk a song for sentimentality, but it was either in spite of or because of his unusually gritty take on “The Star-Spangled Banner” that cameras were were able to cut to openly weepy reaction shots among the game’s participants. These included Eagles lineman Jason Kelce, who appeared to be fighting off tears, and coach Nick Sirianni, who was saving the fighting for the battlefield, just going into full spigot mode.
The sight of Stapleton standing alone at center field with nothing but a Fender Telecaster, a tiny mic-ed amp and a couple of monitors was a symbol of American individualism, right before a game (and probably a Rihanna performance) devoted much more to the idea of teamwork. As many superior anthems as have been delivered over the years, Stapleton’s delivery of it as something rugged and interior made for an inspired contrast to the sturm und drang with which it’s often delivered.
The other two musical performances before kickoff provided a real study in contrasts. Babyface was even less showy than Stapleton, if also less rugged, also accompanying himself on guitar — albeit a flag-emblazoned acoustic one, with a full, pre-recorded backing track — as he sang the least belt-y version of “America the Beautiful” in memory, going for a quiet-storm approach to patriotism.
Sheryl Lee Ralph, for her part, did not leave any lungpower behind in her highly demonstrative take on “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which even had her marching in place at times as she belted what has come to be known as the Black national anthem. While Stapleton and Babyface wore black for the occasion, Ralph was the most elegantly and colorfully decked out performer in recent Super Bowl history, with a red train behind her on the white platform that presumably was not meant to deliberately convey any bias toward the Chiefs.
This marked the third year in a row that “Lift Every Voice” has been added to the pre-Bowl lineup for a musical triple play, although it had been a part of some NFL games for years prior to that. By now, it’s a solid, accepted tradition, although its presence seemed to come as a shock to some right-wing voices, who perhaps started paying more attention because of the game being on Fox — and the Black national anthem being played up as a controversy by the network’s website.
Conservative gadfly Kevin Sorbo called the performing of the song “racist” against white people, while Lauren Boebert tweeted, “America only has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM. Why is the NFL trying to divide us by playing multiple!? Do football, not wokeness.” Presumably Boebert bears as much enmity against “America the Beautiful” for taking attention away from Frances Scott Key’s work and has just not gotten around to hating on that yet.
Whatever reviews Rihanna’s halftime performance gets, the pregame music came out as a win for most of non-troll America — not least of all because Stapleton is a uniter, not a divider, even when he’s making the National Anthem sound like it was born out of a great American Black music artform.
And for anyone who wonders where guitars ever went in the pop landscape… between the performances by Eric Church and H.E.R. in the recent past and Babyface and Stapleton now, it seems like, against all odds, they are destined to keep gravitating toward the Super Bowl every year.
Chris Stapleton on national anthem: 'Not an easy song for singers'
He reinvented "Tennessee Whiskey." He's serenaded an arena of Tyler Perry fans, and even tackled the "Dirty Dancing" theme song alongside Chris Pratt.
But one thing Chris Stapleton hadn't done until Sunday, somehow, was sing the national anthem on television. That changed, of course, because the multi-award-winning country star is set to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
The 44-year-old once said he wouldn't perform the song unless it was for the Super Bowl. He was asked about this statement by the NFL Network's MJ Acosta-Ruiz during a Thursday press conference.
"I think I said it because I thought I wouldn't get asked," Stapleton said with a laugh. "...The national anthem is not an easy song for singers. It's one that can go horribly wrong, as we've seen many times in the past. Hopefully, it won't happen for me, knock on wood."
He was set to be joined by Oscar-winning actor Troy Kotsur, providing American sign language during the performance. Kotsur became the second deaf actor to win an Academy Award for his role in the film "CODA."
Asked if there would be a twist to his take on the song, Stapleton replied, "I'm gonna go out there and play it like I would play it. And if that's a twist, then so be it."
This will be Stapleton's second big TV moment in the span of a week (though the Super Bowl is in its own stratosphere). Last Sunday, he joined Stevie Wonder at the Grammys for a blazing rendition of "Higher Ground."
Over the weekend, Stapleton crossed paths with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Fogerty, who called him "an amazing talent."
Fans new and old across the U.S. will have plenty of opportunities to see Stapleton sing in a stadium this year. He plays the Houston Rodeo next month, and will hit stadiums on his "All American Roadshow" tour as well as a trek with George Strait -- the latter of which includes two shows at Nashville's Nissan Stadium.