The United States Marine Corps band, which played throughout the pomp and ceremony of Obama's historic inauguration, said Beyoncé lip-synched her way through a stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.
The news, revealed by The Times and rapidly confirmed by such august news outfits as ABC News, was greeted by howls of dismay on social media. Beyoncé's performance had attracted rave reviews, and there was widespread disappointment that she had relied on a studio version rather than attempt a live rendition.
"We don't know why Beyoncé decided to use pre-recorded music," a spokesperson for the band told the Washingtonian blog. "All music (for inaugural ceremonies) is prerecorded as a matter of course, and that's something we've done for years and years," the spokesperson added. The band played live for the rest of the ceremony, but was asked to use the pre-recorded track for Beyoncé's performance.
Later in the day, the Marine Corps backed away somewhat from the band's earlier statement. Captain Gregory Wolf, a spokesman for the Marine Corps, confirmed that while the musicians did indeed mime the national anthem as requested, "no-one in the Marine Band is in a position to assess whether it was live or prerecorded".
Colonel Michael J Colburn, the band's conductor, told the Washingtonian that although he could not confirm whether Beyonceé sang live or not, the band and the singer had decided on Sunday night to use a recorded track because they had not had time to rehearse together. "She wasn't comfortable performing without a rehearsal, and I wasn't comfortable that either," he said.
The news of Beyoncé's apparent decision to shy away from a live performance, which rapidly began spreading on social media, appeared to explain why she had sent out a photo of herself on Instagram several days ago in which she sat in a recording studio holding a piece of sheet music with the lyrics of the American national anthem on it. It also explained why Beyoncé at one point during her performance was able to dramatically remove her ear-piece.
The Star-Spangled Banner is a notoriously difficult piece to sing, as it spans a huge vocal range. It was also bitterly cold in Washington DC on Monday. The combination of nerves and the cold may have influenced Beyoncé's decision to rely on the pre-recorded track.
In another development, ABC News revealed that Kelly Clarkson, a former star from the reality show American Idol, had sung her song, My Country, Tis' of Thee, live. On a day when Obama laid out a bold liberal agenda for the country, that news was likely to have been the only bit of cheer for his Republican opponents. Clarkson has said in the past that she is a supporter of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
However, as it seems Beyoncé is set to take a – very minor – spot in the list of presidential scandals, she is far from the first major star to get caught in a moment of high profile fakery. In 2009 acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma "finger synched" their inaugural performances as cold weather made performing live extremely hard in the face of frozen strings and hands.
And in 1991 Whitney Houston's dazzling performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at that year's Super Bowl was also later revealed to be lip-synched.