Looking For The Chills To Return This May

Knowing what a traditionalist I tend to be, most were not shocked that I was despondent when Jim Nabors announced that 2014 would be his last year to sing. I couldn’t blame him, mind you. He was pushing 84 at the time and is now pushing 87. His first time to sing the iconic song was way back in 1972, my last year to attend the race until 1992.

Nabors’ tenure at the track was a total of forty-three races, but I believe he sang the song for thirty-six times. The last time anyone other than Jim Nabors was scheduled to sing in that time frame was in 1985, when the Voices of Liberty performed it. Nabors had been scheduled for 1986, but when the race was moved back a week for rain – Nabors had to return home to Hawaii, so it was sung by John Davies.

Nabors performed it every year from 1987 until 2014, with the exception of two years when he was too ill to make the trip. In 2007, it was the fans doing a sing-along as a get-well message. In 2012, Nabors tried singing it live from his home via satellite. Neither time was Even close to being pulled off successfully.

Fortunately, we all knew prior to the 2014 race that it was to be his final time. We all reveled in the moment and practically everyone there with a smart phone got a recording of it (I know I did).

It’s tough to follow a legend, whether you’re talking business, sports or entertainment. You never want to be the person immediately following in an iconic person’s footsteps. Ray Perkins couldn’t do it at Alabama when Bear Bryant retired. Conan O’Brien fell so hard when Jay Leno retired that NBC brought Leno back.

The a cappella group, Straight No Chaser, was chosen to be the first performers to follow Nabors in 2015. It was a daunting task and pretty much of a no-win situation. I think most race fans knew that and approached their performance with an open mind. I know I tried to. It would have been unfair to compare them to Nabors. Perhaps that was one of the reasons they were chosen – their style was the direct opposite of Nabors. I really wanted to like them. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

Each year, the Nabors version would send a cold chill through me. The Straight No Chaser version sent no cold chills. It just left me cold. It did nothing for me. They might as well have been singing Three Blind Mice. That’s how much it stirred me. Everyone wanted to give them a chance and I mostly kept my opinions to myself, but I really didn’t care for it at all.

Last year, it was Josh Kaufman that got the nod. I had never heard of him, but I don’t watch The Voice; which he won one year. Susan watches it, but she didn’t remember him. He was a tenor that had a whispy, high-pitched voice that really did nothing for me either. I felt he was saved by the voices of the Indiana Children’s Choir, who accompanied him. I’ll grant you that high whispy voices have their place – especially in today’s music, but I feel like this song and that setting commands a booming voice to deliver it.

That’s why I’m absolutely thrilled with this year’s choice of Jim Cornelison. If you are a sports fan, chances are you’ve heard him sing. He is most known for singing the National Anthem before every Chicago Blackhawks home game. They do the National Anthem differently in Chicago. Instead of standing reverently, the crowd waves towels and cheers. Normally, I would take that as a sign of disrespect. But with Cornelison’s powerful voice belting away – it just seems natural. He started singing for the Blackhawks on a part-time basis in 1996. He got the full-time gig in 2007. He has also performed before a few Chicago Bears games and even a NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway in 2015.

Cornelison is best known for his operatic voice that is as big as a house. He was born in Virginia, but grew up in the Pacific Northwest and graduated from Seattle Pacific University. He moved to the Midwest in 1988 to study voice at the music school at Indiana University. He received his Masters at IU in 1992 and joined the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in 1995. To say he’s up for the job is an understatement.

I have included a video of Cornelison singing the National Anthem at a Chicago Bears playoff game in 2011, just to give you an idea of his voice and how he can stir a crowd. I’ve also included a video from a Blackhawks game where he sang our National Anthem along with O Canada.

As you can tell, Jim Cornelison has the booming baritone voice that has the potential to return the chills to my body. I doubt that he will try to do a duplicated version of the Jim Nabors style. He shouldn’t. He should make it his own. If the fans love it like I think they will, I’m hoping that Cornelison will at least be in the regular rotation and that Back Home Again in Indiana will not have a featured guest every year. It’s time to build a new tradition around that iconic song. I’m betting that Jim Cornelison can do just that.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Looking For The Chills To Return This May”

  1. S0CSeven Says:

    Nope, no, no….

    He has the right voice but HAS to get rid of that tremolo.

    It sounds like opera and looses a lot of it’s feeling.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Will he be singing with the Purdue band?

    This makes two of the three post-Nabors performers IU grads and the Purdue band hasn’t been involved since Nabors last sang. Kaufman was an IUPUI guy, which was a compromise I guess, given what IUPUI stands for.

  3. I hope he has learned, and will sing, the actual words. Jim was close, and consistent, but he didn’t sing the song as it was written.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    Perhaps if he could also sling the ol’ pigskin the Bears might have won. Da Bears till suck and even Jim Nabors can not change that.
    Getting back to racing stuff, I plead for the IMS folks to reintroduce the preamble to Taps.

  5. I still hope Mike Rowe will get a shot.

  6. I’m having a hard time accepting him to be honest. Mainly because I’m a St Louis Blues fan! I will cherish the song as I always do, but I hope they don’t install him as the new permanent singer. Who knows in the end, maybe by singing at one of my favorite events, he can wash away the years of stink from being around the hated blackhawks.

  7. Matt B. (Dayton, OH) Says:

    Yes, Mike Rowe!

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