She has sung the national anthem many times in an Emmy-winning career that spans more than six decades.
But this time is different, says the “Empress of Soul,” Glady Knight.
This time, the Georgia-born singer will perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of a worldwide audience of millions before the start of the Super Bowl in her home state.
“When Atlanta hosts Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, it will have a hometown star taking center stage prior to the biggest game of the NFL season.” CBS Sports announced on Thursday.
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Variety said of the news: “The Super Bowl just got more soulful.”
Knight joins a controversial Super Bowl music lineup.
Other African-American performers have refused the game’s prestigious halftime gig to oppose the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, according to reporting by Billboard, Us Weekly and other sources.
“JAY-Z and Rihanna reportedly said no to performing this year in protest,” Billboard reported.
The former San Francisco quarterback began a movement in 2016 by silently taking a knee during the anthem at games to protest how black people and people of color are treated in the United States.
“Late last year, news emerged that Rihanna turned down the chance to play at the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show because she didn’t agree with the NFL’s stance on the kneeling controversy,” writes Esquire.
“Cardi B — a vocal supporter of Kaepernick — also turned down the chance to play the halftime show.
“Having really run out of options, the NFL decided to go with the safest, most boring choice, hiring Maroon 5 to play the Super Bowl halftime show.”
According to People and other entertainment outlets, rapper Travis Scott came under fire for deciding to perform with Maroon 5 and agreed to do it only if the NFL “join him in a joint donation to a charitable cause,” the magazine reported.
“In partnership with the league, Scott will make a $500,000 contribution to Dream Corps, a non-profit organization that champions social justice.”
Variety reached out to Knight’s reps to ask about the controversies but did not receive an immediate response.
Knight lives on a farm in North Carolina, according to a report last year by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But her ties to Georgia run deep. She was born in Atlanta on May 28, 1944, according to the Today In Georgia History website.
The 1973 hit “Midnight Train to Georgia” carried Gladys Knight and the Pips — the Pips were her brothers and cousins — to worldwide fame.
According to a tally by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she has released 11 studio albums and “has recorded two No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 singles, 11 No. 1 R&B singles and six No. 1 R&B albums.”
In 1996, Gladys Knight and the Pips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2015, Knight “was honored with the renaming of Atlanta’s State Route 9 from Peachtree Street to 14th Street as Gladys Knight Highway,” according to CBS Sports.
“And here we are. we still here. And I’m in Georgia, singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl,” Knight says in an NFL video announcing her Super Bowl performance.
In the video she talks about when the group performed in segregated America.
“If we played a concert that did two shows, we did one for the Caucasian people upstairs and one for the African-American people, people of color, in the basement,” she says in the video. “And we used to ask questions about that stuff. Why we gotta do that?
“And so we started doing our own thing about how to make it better. We marched with Dr. King. We supported him and his growth. And to look at my audience now? Oh. My. God. It’s diverse.”
She said she hopes the anthem, as she plans to perform it, “will touch people in a different way.
“We’ve been singin’ it forever. But this time, I would hope that they would feel it so deeply that it would lift them to a higher place. That’s what I feel when I sing the song. This is who we are, this is how we are. And this is what we do. Get ready, Atlanta. I’m coming home.”