Eric Church is a Strange, but Smart Pick for Super Bowl Anthem

Over time, the Super Bowl has become just as much of a music event as a sports one with all the festivities leading up to kickoff, the reciting of the National Anthem and “America The Beautiful,” and of course the always boisterous halftime show.

But country music is usually left off the lineup when it comes Super Bowl time. Aside from Shania Twain making a co-headlining appearance during the halftime show in 2003, and a country music extravaganza in 1994 with Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, and The Judds all appearing, country music has been shut out of the big game in recent memory.

There will be at least a sliver of representation in 2021 though as Eric Church has been tapped to perform the National Anthem with Jazmine Sullivan. It’s a bit strange to pair people up on the performance, but according to the individuals involved, the inventive rendition with be something to pay attention to, and when Church was asked, he couldn’t say no. In a recent interview Kelleigh Bannen on Apple Music, Church explained,

“Here’s what I said, I’ve said this forever: I will never ever sing the national anthem. It’s so hard. Except the Super Bowl. And I fully assumed—I mean, I’m not Chris Stapleton—I fully assumed they’re never going to ask me. So, when they asked, I thought ‘shit.’ My first response was no, I can’t… I’m a stylist, not a vocalist. But I heard it, I thought ‘that’s cool, that sounds like me.’ And then I heard [Jazmine Sullivan], and I’m not missing a chance to sing with her. And that was it. Once I heard her voice I said ‘Okay, I’m in.’”

Eric Church is right. He’s a more rock-oriented country star not necessarily known for his pipes, making him a strange pick for the opportunity. But if you want to pair a male country star with a black female artist to signify unity like the Super Bowl is attempting to do here, Eric Church actually becomes one of the few ideal candidates, at least from the country mainstream.

Even though Eric Church is known partly for his bad boy attitude, he’s been the preeminent guy in mainstream country working with black women, and helping to lift their voices. This is what he did in 2013 when he brought out the then virtually-unknown Valerie June to sing “Like Jesus Does” with him in an intimate acoustic performance on the ACM Awards. Later Eric Church paired with Rhiannon Giddens on the anti-racism song “Kill A Word,” which he also performed with Giddens during the 50th Annual CMA Awards in 2016. In fact, Eric Church has been the curious champion of women in country over the years.

This instance is a bit different of course. Jazmine Sullivan is probably just as popular and prominent as Eric Church. But Church knows his way around these kinds of pairings as the less powerful singer—how to not hog the mic or spotlight so to speak, making him well-equipped to handle this assignment. The fact that he’s not a super singer might be what makes him ideal.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Church says of singing the National Anthem, “I’ve avoided it forever. It’s an incredibly hard song to sing … Somebody like me, you take some liberties with it, then you’ve gotten too far away from the melody and suddenly you’re a communist. Honestly, there’s just more to lose than to gain … [But] with what’s going on in America, it feels like an important time for a patriotic moment. An important time for unity. The fact that I’m a Caucasian country singer and she’s an African American R&B singer—I think the country needs that.”

Like Eric Church says, there’s extra scrutiny on whomever performers the National Anthem, especially at the Super Bowl. Time will tell if Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan can rise to the occasion. But as we’ve seen in the past, if they do, it will be remembered for the ages. And though Eric Church may not exactly be the hardcore country crooner some may want in that spot, his participation will be a win for country music nonetheless.

© 2023 Saving Country Music