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editorial

Aretha Franklin: Giving new life to an old anthem

Aretha Franklin performs the national anthem during Harvard University commencement ceremonies Thursday.

Associated Press

Aretha Franklin performs the national anthem during Harvard University commencement ceremonies Thursday.

Fifty years from now, as they make their way through the reunion tent, the Harvard Class of 2014 will reminisce about an extraordinary capstone to their undergraduate years: Watching Aretha Franklin’s soulful, heartfelt version of the national anthem at Thursday’s graduation. Her crimson gown flowing like a choir robe, Franklin looked entirely at home sitting alone in front of a piano and singing in a minimalist vocal style, as if imagining the song afresh. She proved that there is still new life to be found in as old an anthem as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and taught her adoring audience — including her fellow honorary-degree recipients George H.W. Bush and Michael Bloomberg — that great achievements can come in many forms.

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