American Icons: Jimi Hendrix's ‘Star-Spangled Banner’

Studio 360

In 1969, Jimi Hendrix’s performance of the national anthem at Woodstock hit like a shock wave; with its distortion and chaos, it sounded like a rupture in something sacred.

“It’s like the zeitgeist had vomited up this thing,” musician Vernon Reid says. Using a whammy bar and a fuzz box, Hendrix captured the sound of bombs falling overseas and screaming protestors.  “I didn’t think it was unorthodox,” Hendrix had said. “I thought it was beautiful.”

For our American Icons series, two music scholars and two rock guitarists try to figure out why Hendrix's Woodstock performance resonated then, and why it still does now.

This story was produced by David Krasnow, with assistance from Stephen Reader, and edited by Emily Botein.

Bonus Track: Vernon Reid's "Star-Spangled Banner" 
Vernon Reid founded the rock band Living Colour and won two Grammy awards for his guitar work with the group. In this bonus track, he plays his version of the national anthem, just for Studio 360.

Bonus Track: Tara Key's "Star-Spangled Banner" 
Tara Key, guitarist for the band Antietam, performs her own version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" for Studio 360.

Tara Key's "Star-Spangled Banner," The Music Video
Tara Key had a very specific nightly ritual as a baby. She says she wouldn't let her mother sleep until they sat together in front of the television, rocking back and forth as it showed the American flag and played the "Star-Spangled Banner." This music video is her tribute to analog TV's old sign-off protocol.

American Icons is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

(Originally aired November 18, 2010)

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