Gladys Knight has spoken out in defence of her decision to sing the US national anthem at next month’s NFL Super Bowl.
The soul singer has faced criticism since the announcement, because of an ongoing row about player protests.
Since 2016, some American football players have refused to stand for the anthem to protest against racial injustice. Critics, including President Trump, accuse them of disrespect.
In a statement, Knight said she hoped to “bring people together”.
The singer told Variety magazine that she wanted to “give the Anthem back its voice”.
Knight also criticised the stance of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests in 2016.
“I understand that Mr Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight wrote in the statement.
“It is unfortunate that our national anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the national anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone.”
Knight also told the magazine she had “been in the forefront” of the battle against inequality “longer than most of those voicing their opinions”.
“I pray that this National Anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us,” her statement ended.
How did protests begin?
Kaepernick became the first player to refuse to stand during the national anthem in 2016.
He said the gesture was a protest against police shootings of unarmed African-Americans and other examples of racial injustice.
After the player left the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, he remained unsigned and has not played again.
He has since filed a grievance against the football league, accusing them of colluding to effectively “blackball” him.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, other players joined the protests and the issue became a polarising debating point in the US.
The anthem protests have since slowed, but the issue remains politically divisive.
The NFL remains without a coherent stance on the matter after it froze plans to fine teams whose players protested.
This year’s Super Bowl championship game, the 53rd, is set to be played in Atlanta on 3 February.
Maroon 5, who have been announced as half-time show performers, have also faced criticism over their appearance alongside rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi.
A petition asking the band to reconsider their decision has received more than 90,000 signatures.
A number of other artists, including Rihanna, were rumoured in US media to have turned offers down to perform.