15 Legendary Musicians Who Gave Iconic Sports Performances

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2016

15 Legendary Musicians Who Gave Iconic Sports Performances

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    Getty/Jonathan Daniel, Getty/Michael Zagaris

    Prince gave one of the best Super Bowl halftime performances ever, hands down. The icon's recent death has led those in sports (and out) to reminisce on that and other notable Prince moments.

    In the spirit of nostalgia, let's remember other legendary musicians who will be forever linked to sports. 

    Ray Charles sang a gorgeous "America the Beautiful" at the World Series in 2001. Whitney Houston's national anthem from the 1991 Super Bowl is unlikely to be topped, ever.

    These 15 musicians are legendary and will be also be remembered as the architects of some memorable and unique musical moments in sports history.

    From the Super Bowl to the Olympics and even Mariano Rivera's retirement ceremony, music and sports make for the perfect marriage. 


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    The Moment: NBA All-Star Game, 2014

    With several Grammys under his belt as an artist and a producer, Pharrell Williams is well on his way to legendary status.

    In 2014, his performance at the NBA All-Star Game gave fans something to be excited about (a sentiment that doesn't always accompany All-Star games). 

    The epic pregame performance included Pharrell's smash hit "Happy" and appearances from guest stars such as Nelly, Diddy, Busta Rhymes and Snoop Dogg—because this list has to include ever-present sports fan Snoop.

Paul McCartney

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    The Moment: Super Bowl XXXIX Halftime Show, 2005

    Paul McCartney gave a predictably stellar performance at halftime of Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. Including hits like "Live and Let Die" and "Hey Jude," the show was obviously entertaining.

    While it might not have been the most groundbreaking Super Bowl halftime show ever, McCartney's performance was iconic because he is—much like the Rolling Stones in 2006 and Bruce Springsteen in 2009. 

    The legendary Beatle also performed at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, but an unfortunate timing gaffe muddied that ever so slightly. 


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    The Moment: Mariano Rivera's Retirement Ceremony, 2013

    For much of his 19-year MLB career, legendary reliever Mariano Rivera had one entrance song. Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blared over the Yankee Stadium loudspeakers each time the all-time saves leader entered a game.

    Ironically enough, Rivera didn't choose the song, but that's neither here nor there. His name became synonymous with "Sandman."

    At Rivera's retirement ceremony in 2013, Metallica showed up in person to play Rivera's song as he trotted toward the mound.  


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    The Moment: Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show, 2012

    It was only a matter of time before Madonna showed up in a Super Bowl halftime show, right? The Queen of Pop graced the stage in Indianapolis and absolutely crushed it, giving fans a taste of the old and the new. 

    She opened with "Vogue" and closed with "Like a Prayer" (obviously) but also played "Give Me All Your Luvin" from her then-new album, MNDA.

    Guest acts like Nicki Minaj and Cee-Lo were there too, but (save a minor inappropriate gesture from M.I.A.) it was Madge's show.

The Who

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    The Moment: London Olympics Closing Ceremony, 2012

    The closing ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games in London paid homage to British music with performances from Annie Lennox, George Michael, One Direction, the Spice Girls and others.

    The "legend" status of One Direction is debatable, but that is not the case for The Who, longtime members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    The band officially closed out the ceremony, playing "My Generation" as the Olympic flame went dark.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake

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    DAVID PHILLIP/Associated Press

    The Moment: Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show, 2004

    Sometimes iconic performances aren't exactly inspiring.

    In 2004, Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson's top in what would become the "wardrobe malfunction" to end all others in sports musical performances. Over a decade later, it is still remembered as one of the most memorable occurrences in Super Bowl halftime history.

    A spokesperson for CBS, which aired the show live, later said, "We attended all rehearsals during the week, and there was no indication any such thing would happen. We would like to apologize to anyone who was offended," per Bill Hutchinson of the New York Daily News.

Stevie Wonder

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    The Moment: Atlanta Olympics Closing Ceremony, 1996

    The 1996 Summer Olympic Games were marred by a bombing at Centennial Olympic Park that killed two and injured 111.

    Then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch presided over a moment of silence at the closing ceremonies. Ian Thomsen of the New York Times wrote, "After a time the silence was broken by the brilliant voice of Stevie Wonder."

    Wonder covered John Lennon's "Imagine," and afterward, Samaranch announced, "The Games of unity have indeed been most exceptional games."


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    The Moment: Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show, 2013

    Beyonce absolutely crushed the Super Bowl halftime show in 2013. Along with her trademark performance chops, Bey brought the girl power with an all-female band and a Destiny's Child reunion.  

    She later told CBS, "It's one of those magical performances you can't recreate. I wanted it to be something iconic and something that people would never forget," per Mitchell Peters of Billboard.

    Mission accomplished. Beyonce followed it up with a stellar guest spot in the Super Bowl 50 show, too. Woman is fierce.

Gladys Knight

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    The Moment: Atlanta Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, 1996

    Stevie Wonder closed out the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, but Gladys Knight, aka the "Empress of Soul" got them started.

    An Atlanta native, Knight sang "Georgia on My Mind," much to the delight of the crowd. Her lovely performance was followed up with a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also from Atlanta.  

    Don Mischer, executive producer of the ceremonies, said, "An opening ceremony makes a community think about itself. We have spent over a year researching how best to represent the South and Atlanta and the nation," per Jennifer Frey and Christine Brennan of the Washington Post (via the Los Angeles Times).

Michael Jackson

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    The Moment: Super Bowl XXVII Halftime Show, 1993

    First of all, James Earl Jones introduced pop icon Michael Jackson as the halftime performer at Super Bowl XXVII, held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. So that was awesome.

    Jackson was such an electrifying performer, it's no wonder his show was epic. He started off by simply standing there for over a minute, no movement, just taking in the wild applause. Boss move.

    The performance itself did not disappoint either and included smash hits like "Billie Jean" and "Black or White."

Ray Charles

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    The Moment: World Series Game 2, 2001

    Baseball movie buffs might remember Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful" from The Sandlot soundtrack. The musical icon popularized the song on his 1972 album, A Message From the People.

    Charles also performed his version at Super Bowl XXXV and at Game 2 of the 2001 World Series in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    At the biggest event for America's pastime, the patriotism absolutely oozed from the blues legend. 

U2's 9/11 Tribute

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    The Moment: Super Bowl XXXVI Halftime Show, 2002

    Super Bowl XXXVI was the first to occur after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Janet Jackson was originally scheduled to perform at halftime but cancelled, according to Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated.

    John Collins, then a marketing executive with the NFL, stepped in and reached out to U2, who accepted right away. The names of victims scrolled behind the band as they played "Where the Streets Have No Name" in a powerful tribute. 

    Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote, "To some, it may have seemed rather a garish memorial, but in a strangely affecting way, it worked, and respectfully."

Marvin Gaye

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    The Moment: NBA All-Star Game National Anthem, 1983

    Marvin Gaye's national anthem at the old Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California, was certainly a departure from traditional renditions.

    Its soulfulness thrilled the crowd but was also interpreted as inappropriate by some, including then-NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien, according to Pete Croatto of Grantland. 

    Apparently, when a promotions director approached Lakers owner Jerry Buss with concerns, Buss replied, "That was the greatest anthem of all time. Are you kidding?" per Croatto.

    It was up there. That's for sure.


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    The Moment: Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show, 2007

    Prince wasn't just a legendary musician but also a legendary performer. His Super Bowl halftime show is widely regarded as one of the best ever. He played a mix of his own songs and covers, including "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan and "Best of You" by the Foo Fighters.  

    As if by divine intervention, it rained at Miami's Sunlife Stadium that night.  

    Don Mischer, the halftime show producer, reportedly asked Prince if he was alright with the rain. According to Christina Capatides of CBS News, Prince replied, "Can you make it rain harder?"

    He appropriately closed the show with "Purple Rain." Perfection.

Whitney Houston

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    The Moment: Super Bowl XXV National Anthem, 1991

    If you thought Lady Gaga rocked the national anthem at Super Bowl 50 (she did), then man, what you must have thought of Whitney Houston in 1991.

    American patriotism was souring as troops served overseas in the Persian Gulf. Houston performed an absolutely sublime rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as F-16 jets prepared for a flyover.

    Danyel Smith of ESPN The Magazine wrote, "The image of her singing is interspersed with faces of the fans, of the soldiers at attention and of the U.S. flag and flags of the wartime coalition countries blowing in the breeze. She is calmly joyful—cool, actually, and free of fear."

    It was utterly spectacular and highly emotional, probably the best national anthem of all time.

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