by Jessica Nicholson
On Sunday, Feb. 7, before the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Eric Church will open Super Bowl LV with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” alongside Grammy-nominated R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan.
Church has said he never expected to be asked to perform the national anthem. During an interview with Kelleigh Bannen for her Apple Music Country show Today’s Country Radio With Kelleigh Bannen, Church said, “I fully assumed—I mean, I’m not Chris Stapleton. I fully assumed they’re never going to ask me…I’m a stylist, not a vocalist.”
However, once he heard Sullivan’s voice, the reconsidered his stance.
“Then I heard her, and I’m not missing a chance to sing with her,” Church said. “And that was it. Once I heard her voice, I said, ‘Okay, I’m in.’”
Of course, Church is far from the first country singer to perform the national anthem to open a Super Bowl game.
Here, we take a look at six other country entertainers who have performed national anthem duties before the Big Game.
The late Charley Pride was the first country artist to perform the national anthem before a Super Bowl, in 1974 as the Miami Dolphins took on the Minnesota Vikings for Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. Pride was also the first-ever solo artist to sing the anthem at a Super Bowl. In addition to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he also sang “America The Beautiful.”
It would be nearly two decades before another country entertainer would sing the national anthem to launch a Super Bowl game.
In 1993, amidst a hot streak of unprecedented sales success for a country artist (including his albums No Fences, Ropin’ The Wind, and The Chase), Garth Brooks did the honors of performing the anthem before Super Bowl XXVIII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. That year, the Dallas Cowboys won against the Buffalo Bills. Brooks’ performance also changed the National Football League’s requirements for national anthem singers.
According to The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Sporting Event, penned by former NFL executive director Don Weiss, shortly before Brooks was to perform the national anthem for the televised event, Brooks threatened to not perform unless NBC aired his video for “We Shall Be Free,” a star-studded clip that championed equality and unity. Brooks had penned the song in response to the Rodney King riots that occurred in 1992 in Los Angeles.
Brooks declined to pre-record his national anthem performance, which meant there would be nothing to play if Brooks walked out on the performance. After a tense standoff, NFL’s executive producer agreed to air a segment of Brooks’ video if the NFL agreed to delay the kickoff time by three minutes. They did, and Brooks performed the national anthem. Since Brooks’ performance, the league has required national anthem singers to have a backup recording of their performances.
In the 2000s, some of country music’s top female vocalists featured more prominently in the national anthem duties.
In 2000, Faith Hill performed the anthem for Super Bowl XXXIV, which featured the Tennessee Titans against the St. Louis Rams. Hill was fresh off white-hot pop crossover success with “Breathe” from the year before when she signed on to perform the national anthem. Since then, Hill has had strong ties to the NFL. Seven years later, Hill became the voice of Sunday Night Football by singing its theme song, a gig she held through 2012.
Three years after Hill did the anthem honors, The Chicks (then known as Dixie Chicks) performed the national anthem for Super Bowl XXXVII, becoming the first country group to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl.
In 2010, Carrie Underwood performed the national anthem prior to XLIV. In 2017, Luke Bryan performed the national anthem to launch Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston. Notably, both Underwood and Bryan chose to perform the anthem a cappella. Beginning in 2013, Underwood followed Hill as the voice of Sunday Night Football.
It’s also worth noting that a select few country entertainers have performed as part of the Super Bowl’s halftime show over the years. Entertainer and fiddle player Doug Kershaw was part of the Super Bowl halftime show in 1990. In 1994, under the theme Rockin’ Country Sunday, Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, and The Judds all performed during the halftime show, while Shania Twain joined No Doubt and Sting for 2003’s halftime performance.
This year’s Super Bowl LV will be broadcast live on Feb. 7 at 5:30 p.m. CT on CBS.