Musing About Our National Anthem

by John Delach

Let not your heart be troubled, dear reader. I want you to enjoy this piece, so I promise it doesn’t concern protests during the playing of our National Anthem before the start of NFL games. I task that to others who choose to comment.

Instead, I offer a couple of anecdotal musings on the “Star Spangled Banner” and a piece I originally wrote in 2002.

First off, an odd fact. Baltimore Orioles fans add a single word to our anthem when played before the start of home baseball games at their beautiful ballpark, Camden Yards. When the rendition reaches:

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free?…

The crowd adds “Here” in recognition of their location, across the harbor from Fort McHenry.

Second, the football writer and expert, Paul Zimmerman, a.k.a. Dr. Z who died last year had some quirky habits. Admittedly, timing the length of each rendition he witnessed and keeping a record was a peculiar one. Yup, he used a stop watch!

Dr. Z’s goal was to experience it being played in under two-minutes. He accomplished this once. An organist at Fenway Park played an instrumental rendition in one-minute, fifty-eight seconds. The organist admitted to the pleased Dr. Z that had receive several complaints that he played it too fast. Alas, Dr. Z was never able to duplicate this feat when the anthem was sung. He speculated that singers just couldn’t get over the hump of the anthem’s center in a timely manner.

Unlike Zimmerman, all I ever wanted from a performer was a clean, honest rendition by an artist able to conquer the difficult High C note at, “…the land of the free.”

This didn’t happen often. Most singers fudged it, double clutched, threw in a pause or let a band play over them. From time to time over 20 years, Martha Wright, a Broadway stage star, and the wife of Mike Manuche, a Midtown restaurateur, rendered her interpretation on the playing field before football Giants home games. Accompanied only by a trumpet, Martha mastered our anthem and effortlessly blew through the High C.

Martha was magnificent!

And now may I present Darrell Luckett and The National Anthem (originally penned in October 2002.)

Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, is a Twenty-First Century football factory featuring blaring noise, strobe lights, female cheerleaders dancing and prancing in provocative attire, fireworks, male cheerleaders waving team battle flags and face- painted fans wearing steer-horn hats.

Noise and distractions abound so it was a pleasant surprise when a solitary individual strode up to a microphone positioned at the 50-yard line to sing, a cappella, our National Anthem. The program identified the soloist as Darrell Luckett.

Mister Luckett rendered our anthem in a traditional style with confidence and precision. When he reached the penultimate line, he stopped; creating a pregnant pause designed to signal to all who were paying attention that he intended to conquer:

O’er the land of the free

Did he do it? He nailed it! The late Robert Merrill couldn’t have climbed that mountain with greater élan.

The game was not an artistic delight. My New York Giants lost a game they should have won. Down, disappointed and disgruntled, my son, my friend, Dave, and I found a downtown Houston restaurant where we bemoaned our fate. Returning to our hotel, we encountered a stranger who approached us as we walked along Louisiana Avenue. He noticed the team logos on our shirts and asked, “Were you at the game today?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” I replied.

“Then you heard me sing the National Anthem.”

I mumbled something stupid like; “You’re kidding me?”

When he insisted, he was serious, we introduced ourselves and shook hands. I told him how impressed we were with his interpretation, his pause and how he nailed the High C note. He beamed until I voiced doubt and asked, “Did you really sing the Anthem today?”

Instead of answering me, right there in the center of Houston, he belted out:

O’er the land of the free

And the home of the brave

We cheered. He bowed, turned away, waved arm extended over his back and walked off