A Thanksgiving prayer in Detroit


Aretha Franklin sang the Star Spangled Banner so many times over so many years before so many different games in Detroit, that it would be very difficult to pick one rendition that everyone could agree was her best.

But I like one of the last ones, sung at Ford Field before the 2016 Thanksgiving Day Lions-Vikings game.

Even though it was nearly four minutes long, it brought the crowd of 50,000 to attention and held them there, rapt.

Huge, tough linemen stood with their hands over their hearts, and tears in their eyes.

People in the stands stopped talking and moving about and stood, listening.

For four minutes,

As the clock seemed to slow and the seconds found a different rhythm, she took us back to a forgotten, more reverent time.

Toward the end, as she began to sing the last two lines,

“O’er the Land of the Free,

And the Home of the Brave…” the crowd began to applaud…

And then she did something simple and strong with it;

Something right out of the African-American spiritual tradition,

Something you might hear on a Sunday morning in the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit…

She took the last two words of the Anthem;

Those two little words that are so often lost in the cheering and the clamor of the crowd before a game,

And she made of them a refrain and a benediction,

Repeating them again and again;

“The brave…

“The brave…

“The brave…

And with each repetition of those two words, the cheering swelled and rolled around and through the stadium, like a wave on Chesapeake Bay on a stormy night 202 years before,

Until it built into a crescendo, like the thunder of cannon fire heard rolling across the water.

Aretha sang an Anthem and a Prayer of Thanksgiving; just as Francis Scott Key penned it, two centuries ago. Who knew then, it might be her last?

Follow this link to a YouTube video of the referenced rendition: https://youtu.be/FvqMOH0zYq0 c NFL

Daniel M. Young