The unlikely duo performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the top of the game, which pits the Kansas City Chiefs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wearing a purple jacket and playing guitar, Church began the anthem solo, quietly singing with his soulful twang. The song really took off when Sullivan, looking stunning in a jeweled headpiece and cream-colored pantsuit, joined in, effortlessly harmonizing with Church and showing off her stunning vocal range.
The performance belonged to Sullivan, whose powerful and passionate delivery outshone the more subdued Church. It called to mind the 2006 game, the last Super Bowl to feature two artists duetting on the anthem: Aretha Franklin and Aaron Neville. The legendary Franklin was somewhat mismatched with Neville, whose lethargic presence and feathery vocals never quite gelled with Franklin’s mighty voice.
Sullivan and Church’s lovely anthem ultimately fared much better than Christina Aguilera’s lyric-flubbing rendition in 2011, although their agreeable performance lacked the “wow” of pop stars Lady Gaga (2016) and Demi Lovato (2020). And, of course, no one can ever top Whitney Houston‘s astonishing “Star-Spangled Banner” 30 years ago at the 1991 Super Bowl, a version so iconic that it became a hit single in itself, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Sullivan and Church had never collaborated before Sunday’s game, held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, with a scaled-back crowd of 25,000 fans due to COVID-19 restrictions. Sullivan told Entertainment Tonight in late January that she had never met Church, but was excited to blend their respective R&B and country sounds.
“We definitely come from two totally different, um, everything,” Sullivan said. “But, I’m excited. I think it will be cool to blend the different sounds of music and just show some unity. I just hope that it brings unity and it shows that you can be from two different parts of life and come together for a good common cause.”
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Minutes before the anthem at Sunday’s game, R&B singer H.E.R. delivered a captivating take on “America the Beautiful.” She rocked sunglasses, a leather jacket and sparkled jeans, and her performance culminated in a thrilling electric guitar solo.
Sullivan is a 12-time Grammy-nominated singer who hit the Top 5 on Billboard’s mainstream R&B/hip-hop airplay chart in 2008, with singles “Need U Bad” and “Bust Your Windows.” The 33-year-old recently returned after a six-year break between albums with last month’s “Heaux Tales,” featuring collaborations with H.E.R. and Anderson .Paak.
Church, meanwhile, is gearing up to release a triple album project this spring titled “Heart & Soul.” The new music, written pre-COVID shutdowns, will roll out starting April 16 with first album “Heart.” The 43-year-old released two new songs, “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones” and “Lone Wolf,” on Friday.
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