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Eric Church, Jazmine Sullivan's Super Bowl national anthem speaks to now

Other pre-show performers include H.E.R., Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Miley Cyrus

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The national anthem received a soulful country makeover before the kickoff of Sunday's Super Bowl. 

Country star Eric Church and R&B songstress Jazmine Sullivan joined together for a socially distanced duet of "The Star-Spangled Banner" just before the big game. 

Jazmine Sullivan and Eric Church perform the national anthem before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.

It was the 30th anniversary of Whitney Houston's national anthem, also delivered in Tampa, and still riveting to revisit. Houston's rendition remains the Super Bowl's best-ever performance of the song, and while Church and Sullivan's version didn't scale those heights, it spoke uniquely to our moment in time. 

Church, in a purple jacket and aviator shades, started the song, lacing it with a laid-back country groove. He was working at his own pace, not hurrying the lyrics, but giving the song his own North Carolina flavor. 

Jazmine Sullivan performs with Eric Church during the national anthem before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla.

Philly native Sullivan, dressed in all white, joined in midway through the first verse, stretching her vocals but riding on top of Church's easygoing rhythm. 

Fireworks began to erupt above the stadium, timed to the reference to "the rockets' red glare," as cameras cut to a roomful of U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait. 

Church and Sullivan joined forces for the big finish, singing separately but together (and standing at least 6 feet apart at on the field). Their voices and styles complemented one another but didn't overlap; you could dial into either performer's voice and focus on it, as they were essentially performing in stereo.  

It was a show of unity from the two performers, who represent different genres, but who came together to honor America at a time when the country has been ravaged by a pandemic and torn apart by political affiliations. Clocking in at just under 2 minutes and 30 seconds, it was a solid rendition, sturdy and not overblown, and right for the current moment and climate.  

Eric Church performs the national anthem before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla.

Prior to the national anthem, Grammy-winner H.E.R. took on "America the Beautiful," starting with a simple, slow reading of the song before channeling Prince with an electrifying guitar solo to close it out. 

Other pre-show entertainment included Jennifer Hudson singing "Stand By Me" over a package celebrating players and their families; Alicia Keys singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in an acknowledgement of issues of social injustice, police brutality and racism that the NFL has taken strides to address over the course of the season; and Miley Cyrus, who performed a pair of songs during a pre-show concert that included guests Billy Idol and Joan Jett.  

agraham@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @grahamorama