Ahead of kickoff, Gladys Knight gave a rousing performance of the National Anthem

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February 03, 2019 06:25 PM

The Empress of Soul is in the building!

Gladys Knight kicked off Super Bowl LIII on Sunday with her rousing rendition of the national anthem.

The seven-time Grammy winner, 74, who was born and raised in Atlanta, wore a white dress and silver booties with an embellished headband for her performance — which was intercut with footage of armed service members.

As Knight hit the final note, F-16 Fighting Falcons flew over the stadium in formation.

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Knight’s performance was a huge hit on social media, with many praising the iconic singer.

Ahead of her performance, Knight shared how honored she was to sing at the Super Bowl.

“I am proud to use my voice to unite and represent our country in my hometown of Atlanta,” the legendary singer said in a statement released by the NFL.

Knight joins a notable list of artists who have performed the song over the years, including Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, and most recently Pink, who performed on the field last year while battling the flu.

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Later on during the game, Maroon 5, Big Boi and Travis Scott will take to the stage during the Super Bowl LIII Pepsi Halftime Show.

Although the halftime show is a time-honored tradition that many look forward to every year, this year the performers have faced criticism from fans who urged the musicians to back out in support of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who started the #TakeAKnee movement to protest racial injustices.

Travis Scott and Adam Levine
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Scott, 26, in particular, said that he had only agreed to play the halftime show if the NFL agreed to join him in making a joint donation to a charitable cause.

“I back anyone who takes a stand for what they believe in,” Scott said in a statement to PEOPLE. “I know being an artist that it’s in my power to inspire. So before confirming the Super Bowl Halftime performance, I made sure to partner with the NFL on this important donation. I am proud to support Dream Corps and the work they do that will hopefully inspire and promote change.”

Maroon 5 soon followed Scott’s lead, working with the NFL to make a $500,000 contribution to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America ahead of their Super Bowl headlining performance.

“Playing the Super Bowl has been a dream of our band for a long time,” frontman Adam Levine, 39, told PEOPLE in a statement. “We thank the NFL for the opportunity and also to them, along with Interscope Records, for making this donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters, which will have a major impact for children across the country.”

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Ahead of the Super Bowl, when asked to share her thoughts on the backlash, Knight responded to Variety in a written statement asking fans to separate the two situations.

“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice. 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,” she wrote.

“I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the Anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good — I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s Anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl LIII.”

Knight continued, “No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it. 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.”

The 53rd Super Bowl will be held on Feb. 3 in Atlanta. The national anthem was aired live on CBS prior to kickoff.

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