A hint as to the actual origins of the version Beyoncé sang came from her own hand: On January 20, the day before the ceremony, Beyoncé posted pictures to her Instagram account that appeared to show her in a recording studio. In one, she holds a copy of the sheet music to “The Star Spangled Banner” in front of a microphone attached to a recording device, and in another she sits in front of recording equipment while members of the Marine Corps Band stand clutching sheet music behind her.
Miming along to a pre-recorded track isn’t unheard of at inaugural ceremonies. At President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, cold weather and wind meant that a live performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman had to be nixed in favor of a recording. But there are no previously known cases of a singer lip-syncing the national anthem during an inaugural performance.
UPDATE January 22, 11:45 AM: The London Times has confirmed our theory that Beyoncé was, in fact, lip syncing. See the video via YouTube.
UPDATE January 22, 12:10 PM: "We don't know why Beyoncé decided to use prerecorded music," a spokesperson for the Marine Corps Band told us this morning. "All music [for inaugural ceremonies] is prerecorded as a matter of course, and that's something we've done for years and years. The Marine Band did perform live throughout the ceremony but we received last-minute word that Beyoncé wanted to use the recording." The spokesperson also added that everyone knows Beyoncé is a gifted singer, and her decision has no bearing on her musical ability.