In Washington, D.C., a city consistently crammed with controversy, gossip, rumor and innuendo, the hubbub du jour is: Did she or didn’t she?
I’m referring, of course, to rampant speculation about a singer so good and so celebrated that she can go by a single name — Beyoncé — and whether or not she lip-synched “The Star-Spangled Banner” during President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Nobody is questioning whether or not it is actually Beyoncé’s voice that we heard singing so beautifully and so powerfully along with “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. I mean, this is not like Marni Nixon singing for Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.” Or Marni Nixon singing for Natalie Wood in “West Side Story.” Or Marni Nixon singing for Deborah Kerr in both “The King and I” and “An Affair to Remember.” Or, for that matter, Marni Nixon, who really SHOULD have done the singing for Vanessa Redgrave in “Camelot,” and maybe even for Russell Crowe in “Les Miz.”
The question revolves around whether or not Beyoncé actually sang the National Anthem live on the Capitol steps in front of God, James Taylor and everybody. Although she was clearly present for the performance, shivering in the cold right along with everybody else, there are some who suggest with raised eyebrows and hushed voices that she lip-synched to a previously recorded version of her own singing. Evidently these folks feel if it isn’t performed live it is somehow undeserving of our admiration and respect, and certainly not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with the Holy Grail of National Anthem performances: the late Whitney Houston’s spectacular presentation at the height of the Persian Gulf War during Super Bowl XXV in Tampa.
Which, by the way, was also pre-recorded and lip-synched.
The song, not the war.
For many, it’s a matter of truth and honor, which strikes me as anomalous in a day when truth seems to be relative and honor passé. It’s a day when one renowned athlete can build a philanthropic empire on lies and deceit, and another can be scammed into falling in love with a girlfriend who doesn’t actually exist. It’s a world in which a famous general becomes infamous for his infidelity, while millions of Americans are entertained on a nightly basis by film and television offerings that celebrate – and even elevate – the very act that forced the general to resign in disgrace.
“In a time of deceit,” wrote George Orwell, “telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
So I suppose a case could be made that the public outcry over whether or not Beyoncé did or didn’t lip-synch is a sort of semi-revolutionary call for truth.
But what is truth?
Years ago, when I first read the Bible story in which that question was posed to a great man facing excruciating penalties as a consequence of trumped up charges and outright lies, I figured the question was pretty much rhetorical. But today I’m not so sure. What I am sure of is the need to make truth the standard to which we aspire in our work and in our personal lives before we are consumed by what seems to be a new reality based on duplicity, deception and deceit. Not only do we have to define truth – for ourselves and for our culture – but we also have to apply it to our daily lives as a value to be cherished, defended and meticulously applied.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” said Keats. “That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Including lip-synching divas.