DENVER - The State of the City address Tuesday started with all the traditional hallmarks of a civic function.
The Pledge of Allegiance, the presentation of the colors.
And then Rene Marie was introduced to sign the national anthem.
Instead of the "Star-Spangled Banner,", the crowd heard "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," sometimes called the "Black National Anthem," first sung as a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday 108-years ago.
Marie sang the lyrics to the tune of the "Star-Spangled Banner."
Mayor John Hickenlooper says, at first, he was offended.
"We were as surprised as anyone and she didn't tell anyone, she made this decision with her husband, her musical mentor and decided just to do an artistic expression and she kind of wove the two songs together," he said.
Marie says she meant no disrespect and wasn't trying to make a political statement.
"I decided to sing my version. What was going on in my head was, I wanted to express how I feel about living in the United States as a black woman." She went on to say she "wouldn't change a thing" about the performance.
Hickenlooper said she did apologize for making the change.
But still, the choice set-off a firestorm of controversy and criticism. Councilman Charlie Brown said the address was "not an NAACP convention."
Nationally-syndicated conservative writer Michelle Malkin called it "racial separatism at an official government gathering."
That frustrates the mayor, because now the focus is on the song and not his vision for the city for the future.
"You know, in retrospect, as bad as my voice is, I probably should have sang the 'Star Spangled Banner' myself."