Gladys Knight belted out a rousing rendition of the national anthem prior to the 2019 Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams.
Knight, an Atlanta native known as the “Empress of Soul,” received loud cheers from the crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
In the weeks prior to the Super Bowl, Knight faced criticism from some who believe that she and other artists should have refused any offers from the NFL to perform due to the controversy following former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem while he was on the team. Kaepernick last played in the NFL in 2016 and has filed a lawsuit accusing the league of collusion, claiming that his unemployment is due to his activism.
“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight wrote in a Jan. 17 statement to Variety. “It is unfortunate that our national anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the national anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone. I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the Anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good — I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl LIII.”
Prior to Knight’s performance, R&B duo Chloe X Halle performed “America the Beautiful.” Sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey also hail from Atlanta, making them the third act performing at the Super Bowl with ATL roots. The NFL also previously announced that performer and deaf activist Aarron Loggins would sign in American Sign Language both “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).