Dear Brent Dewar, About That Star Mangled Banner
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and of course a warm and friendly “Hey y’all” to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR. Along with those good wishes, this piece stands as an open letter to NASCAR’s new President, Brent Dewar. I sincerely hope that you take the time to read it Sir, and after that, who knows… but I tried.
As I pull up to the keyboard on Monday morning, still trying to instill enough coffee into my bloodstream to let my eyes know we’re up and around, I remember that we… you and I and several tracks on the Cup circuit… need to discuss a subject that more and more fans are finding not just objectionable, but downright disrespectful of these United States of America and the things that represent her.
Before anyone out there gets their knickers in a twist, this is not going to be political in any way, shape or manner.
What it is going to be is a good, old-fashioned hissy-fit pitched by an expert in that field, and this time, the recipient of said fit isn’t NASCAR, though it’s something of which I wish they’d take control. Let me start by saying that NASCAR has always prided itself on its patriotism and honoring of all things American and military. In all my complaints, accusations and put-downs of some of NASCAR’s greatest blunders, boo-boos and bleeps, I have always praised the sanctioning body’s steadfast love of country and flag. It’s beyond admirable in a time when some sports tolerate measures of disrespect beyond my understanding… Colin Kaepernick, I hope your ears are burning… literally.
Mention of that person brings us to the reason for today’s column. Mr. Dewar, or Brent, if I may be permitted to so address you, this isn’t the first time this keyboard has helped this senior citizen make this point, but so far my pleas… and those of many thousands of fans like me… have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps having ascended to your new position as President of NASCAR, you might be able to understand and do something to set right a bad situation. We’re talking here about the choices made for presenting our National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” at NASCAR sanctioned races, and Cup races in particular.
It is not my intent to single out Jodie Cunningham, who attempted to sing it this past Sunday in New Hampshire. She is just one of many that totally and absolutely ruin America’s National Anthem, but her failing grade is fresh in my mind and the minds of all the fans I speak for here. (For the Xfinity race on Saturday, NHIS chose to engage a multi-person choir that did an absolutely excellent presentation of our Anthem) Almost to a man, the fans feel that most, though thankfully not all, of the presenters are at least disrespectful, if not downright insulting in their “interpretive” offerings of this most revered piece of American music.
Unless things have changed recently, and I don’t believe that is the case, the choice of entertainers is not made by NASCAR, but by the individual tracks. At every track, there is some PR person or entertainment coordinator that is responsible for presenting talent that reflects well upon the track, but obviously, some of them are failing miserably unless the image they wish to present is one of hostility and disregard for America. In a sport that purports to be so openly and proudly patriotic and indeed has always been so, that is disgraceful to the nth degree.
To date, (Tuesday) there has been only one full posting of the Overton’s 301 on Sunday, and it begins with the command to start engines. Apparently whoever posted that race wasn’t impressed enough with the young lady’s rendition to even include it in his video. However, I am diligent if nothing else, and way down the line I found a video obviously being done by a young child. God bless him, he lost video but kept the audio going, so you’ll hear Ms. Cunningham, though you can’t see her. I’m sure that NASCAR’s version will present the pre-race ceremonies, and is available to you even if not to me. Here though, for the benefit of everyone reading, is “The Star Spangled Banner”, as “interpreted by Jodie Cunningham.”
Please pick it up circa 15:00
Every Memorial Day, these pages carry the story of the British attack on Fort McHenry and the circumstances under which Francis Scott Key wrote the words to our National Anthem. It’s a very lengthy dissertation, but well worth the read when one has time. It certainly lets the entire world know this lady’s feelings about country and flag… and most important to this discussion, the National Anthem.
I readily admit that I don’t know the exact method used by each individual track in choosing someone to present the Anthem, but I’ve long been convinced that in many cases it doesn’t include an audition. “Oh, your name is Whatever, and you have a song on the current charts? OK, you’re hired!” The fans are wise to the game. Every time we hear the words, “Singing Sensation”, “Rising Star”, “Current (Insert name of your choice) Recording Artist” or anything of that ilk, we begin to break into a sweat.
Today’s young stars feel some sort of innate need to tamper mercilessly with both words and music. The popular phrase for such inappropriate presentation is they want to “Make it their own.” Well, guess what Kiddies! You Can’t Have It! That song, “The Star Spangled Banner”… America’s National Anthem… is MINE… and HIS… and HERS… and THEIRS! It is America’s Anthem and as such, it belongs to ALL OF AMERICA and it’s not up for grabs!
When we are speaking of the words and music that represent the very soul of our country, it’s not enough to present some well-known name and assume that everyone will be more than happy to hear whatever might escape his or her lips. As long as this piece of music remains our National Anthem, no matter how difficult it might be to perform, it should be delivered with RESPECT, not scorn. Gyrations, vocal slides, improvisations, trills, failed attempts to reach High C or beyond and various types of moaning, groaning and facial contortions in torch song fashion are NOT acceptable.
When the colors of our flag are presented, military style, and an invocation is given, asking God’s blessing on the participants of the race and all present at the track and watching at home, we are enjoying a solemn moment of reflection before the on-track action begins. You, Mr. or Ms. Singer, are not the star on race day, and you are not auditioning for anything. You’ve been asked to present our National Anthem, and it isn’t too much to expect you to know… or learn… both the words and the tune.
As I said in the beginning, thank heavens they are not all bad, but this old gal fails to see the reason why even one of them should be bad. To the procurers of talent at every track, I have a simple suggestion. Audition! Do not accept someone’s resume as a guarantee of a job well done, and don’t blithely assume that if the price tag is high enough that the product must be worth it. It’s just not so! If this can’t be accomplished, then we, the fans, humbly ask that NASCAR take over or at least reserve right of refusal, and exercise that right until the tracks get it right.
Some of these entertainers are no doubt just fine in their own element, which would more properly be the pop-rock concerts that have become a part of so many of our prerace festivities. Their place, however, is not center stage, purposefully destroying the words and tune of our country’s Anthem. If it can’t be done right, it’s better not being done. Most every area of this great land has a military band that can be hired for occasions such as a race. They never attempt to “Make it their own.”
NASCAR has always been the leading sport when it comes to good old-fashioned patriotism, and has worn that banner proudly since its inception. How ironic is it then, in a stadium full of flags and military presence, to hear some caterwauling wannabe distorting the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner?” Perhaps it’s time that NASCAR usurps the overseeing of the presentation, so that it might be done right. Today’s NASCAR is quite obviously aimed at the youth of America, and what better way to instruct our younger generations than to teach them respect for all things American? Let’s teach our children that it’s wrong to burn the flag and it’s wrong to trash the Anthem. Those simple things alone might go a long way toward solving a lot of the problems of today.
Today’s Classic Country Closeout will be just a bit different. We heard Ms. Cunningham’s rendition and now I invite everyone to listen to what stands until bettered as the best vocal presentation of “The Star Spangled Banner” this American has ever heard. This is Jim Nabors, singing our National Anthem at the very first Brickyard 400 in 1994, with 350,000 fans in attendance and Lord knows how many watching at home. Indianapolis Motor Speedway could not have made a better choice than to have the “Voice of the Speedway”, Tom Carnegie, introduce Jim to the crowd and invite them to listen to the following perfection of presentation.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!