American pianist Tony Lee has created a heartfelt and personal arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the 2020 July Fourth holiday. Featuring enriched harmonies and melodic quotations of the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” as well as the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” his performance speaks to today’s national crises as well as the country’s potential to address these challenges through collective action and care. Lee offers a powerful, emotional reading that depicts the dissonance, contradictions, and debate that characterize the American democratic experiment while ending on a unison as a musical symbol of a unity and hope.
Lee describes the inspiration and artistic vision for his arrangement, including both the model of Rachmaninoff and his decision to wear a Covid-19 health mask while performing, in an accompanying video.
Speaking historically, Lee’s anthem is part of a tradition of performances that fuse patriotism with critique to express both a personal devotion to the nation and a belief that the country can transform itself for the better. Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 Woodstock Banner is the most famous and widely known of this genre, but many performances can be considered both an expression of patriotism and a hopeful call for change.