It takes a special pair of eyes and ears to produce a large-scale live music event for television. That was the sentiment shared by a group of industry pros who gathered to trade notes and talk shop for the Music for Screens session “The Power of Live: How TV Has Elevated Music Performances.”

Rickey Minor, whose long list of credits as music director include the Academy Awards, the Grammys, the Kennedy Center Honors and more, regaled the group with his story of changing the time signature (slowed from 3/4 to 4/4) on “The Star Spangled Banner” to allow Whitney Houston more time to stretch out when she performed the national anthem in January 1991 at Super Bowl XXV in Dallas.  

Fellow panelists Adam Blackstone, a top music director (2022 Super Bowl Halftime Show), Megan Michaels Wolflick, executive producer and showrunner of ABC’s “American Idol” and “Thursday Night Football” composer Pinar Toprak cracked up as Minor recalled the panic that ensued when the NFL and CBS learned about Houston’s arrangement of the song. 

“The NFL didn’t want it and CBS didn’t want it,” Minor recalls. “They actually had me record a standard B-flat version for safety. They said this is the national anthem, its sacrilegious to touch it.” Minor giggles as he remembers being grilled: “How are people going to sing along with it?” 

Of course, Houston’s soaring, gospel-flavored rendition has since set the standard for anthem-delivery at major U.S. sporting events. The experience early in his career taught Minor a good lesson in fighting for an artist’s vision against pressures from above. 

“You’ve got to leave some room for magic. And that’s where [Houston] came in and really just sang from her heart,” he says. “Your job is to get [the artist] in a place where they are back to the center of who they are. You don’t sing from your head, you sing from a deeper place of what this moment means.”