Beyoncé sang the national anthem at yesterday’s inauguration ceremony for President Obama and received overwhelming praise for her performance, ranging from Business Insider (“It was just amazing”) to TMZ (“f*cking awesome”).
But to close observers, it appeared the performer was not singing live. To press seated just below the podium, in front of the “President’s Own” Marine Corps Band, it was evident that the band wasn’t actually playing during the song—even though band director Colonel Michael J. Colburn was conducting energetically and the band members mimicked blowing into their instruments. Separately, at one point during her performance, Beyoncé removed her earpiece.
A hint as to the actual origins of the version Beyoncé sang came from her own hand: On January 20, the day before the ceremony, Beyoncé posted pictures to her Instagram account that appeared to show her in a recording studio. In one, she holds a copy of the sheet music to “The Star Spangled Banner” in front of a microphone attached to a recording device, and in another she sits in front of recording equipment while members of the Marine Corps Band stand clutching sheet music behind her.
Miming along to a pre-recorded track isn’t unheard of at inaugural ceremonies. At President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, cold weather and wind meant that a live performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman had to be nixed in favor of a recording. But there are no previously known cases of a singer lip-syncing the national anthem during an inaugural performance.