All this being said, Powell doesn’t pass judgement on the many Black artists who’ve performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at high-profile events in the past — though he predicts that many artists will start refusing to sing it in the near future, in a movement similar to Colin Kaepernick and his supporters taking a knee during the anthem in recent years.
“The issue is not Black people’s patriotism. I mean, there’s very few folk that are as patriotic as African-Americans,” says Powell. “The way I look at it is, I think what Jimi Hendrix did with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock, or the way that Marvin Gaye reinterpreted it and made it a soul song, or Whitney Houston singing it at the Super Bowl in 1991, it became something that belonged to all people, not just folks that thought we should just blindly sing this song. And that’s what we do: take these opportunities to perform it because it’s a way to showcase one of the greatest gifts to the world, which is music.”
So, if “The Star-Spangled Banner” goes the way of the Confederate flag and Gone With the Wind, what should America’s new national anthem be? Whatever it is, Walker says there should be a formal “vetting process” to make sure the next anthem doesn’t have a terrible past; Powell, for his part, suggests John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which he says is “the most beautiful, unifying, all-people, all-backgrounds-together kind of song you could have.”