WHEN PRESIDENT Bush was asked last month about a newly recorded Spanish-language
version of the National Anthem, he brusquely said the song “ought
to be sung in English.”
I’d like to think the president would have reconsidered that remark
had he accompanied me to the Kings Plaza Mall last week, where several
dozen English-speakers did their best to make me wish I lived in Spain,
where the national anthem has no lyrics.
Ranging in age from 6 to 60, the singers took to the stage in hopes of
landing one of 30 remaining slots that the Brooklyn Cyclones have for
National Anthem singers this season. The renditions were more “American
Idol” than American idyll. And that certainly didn’t please
Cyclones General Manager Steve Cohen.
“We take the anthem very seriously,” Cohen said. “You
have no idea the kinds of complaints we get when there’s a bad anthem
singer. It’s an important song and people want it sung properly.”
Bida doarns ilylight…
Cohen’s words were reverberating in my ears, but, unfortunately,
they were soon drowned out by a 13-year-old named Erica. Her version of
the “Star-Spangled Banner” brought to mind Henry Ford: She could
hit any note you wanted, as long as you wanted B-flat.
Listening to just a few singers made it very clear why television talent
shows like “American Idol” remain so popular: Everyone thinks
he can sing, yet no one really can.
Most of the time, it’s fun to watch people try — but when the
song in question is our notoriously difficult national dirge, it’s
You may think the National Anthem is a time-honored standard, but contestants
sang it in virtually every musical style, from sultry R&B to ululating
Whitney Houston to hip-hop to the ever-unpopular Roseanne Barr version.
After just 20 minutes, I couldn’t help remembering the old Coke commericials:
Whatever happened to that guy who offered to teach the world to sing?
With so many ways to sing the anthem — and sing it badly —
many listeners were left to wonder why it was such a big deal that some
Hispanic crooners recorded a Spanish-language version of the song last
month (after all, the Education Department translated the “Star-Spangled
Banner” into Spanish in 1919 —“La bandera de las estrellas”
— but who expects the Bush administration to remember such details?).
Trew da peralis
The smartest of all the performers was Bradley DeSalvo, 10, of Marine
Park, who performed the anthem on his violin (at least he didn’t
butcher the song with his vocal chords).
One of the judges was WPLJ DJ Race Taylor, who, given where he works,
knows something about sitting through really bad music. But after an hour
or so, even Taylor could stand it no more, telling the contestants, “If
you don’t know the words, just keep singing, they’ll come back
Actually, not many people know the words to the National Anthem —
most likely because we hear it so often that we don’t even notice
it anymore. Contestant Joan O’Brian compensated by bringing the lyrics
along with her. And she did get every word right (now, if she could just
match the lyrics up to the actual notes, she’d have something).
Henda rockis redglaaa…
O’Brian had nothing on my personal favorite singer of the night:
the 14-year-old tenor who sang like a “Soprano”:
Da bombs burst
trew da air…
To be fair, some people knew what they were doing. Maimuna Thomas from
Coney Island gave a kick-ass, deep-throated operatic rendition.
“I was in ‘Eugene Onegin,’ you know,” she said, referring
to the famous Russian opera.
Thomas also confided that she knew the almost-entirely-unknown second
verse of the anthem. Second verse? I’d be happy with someone who
knew the second line!
Gave proust a
There was even a court officer, in uniform, trying to win a coveted spot
(the good news: he only disgraced the anthem, not his uniform).
Data flag wus
Even a chorus from the Louis Marshall School (which wore t-shirts proclaming
themselves the “World’s Greatest Chorus”) failed to, as
they say, honor America with the singing of the National Anthem, although
one boy did doff his Los Angeles Dodger cap.
Hosay doz dat
star-spangeel bana ye’et wave?…
The singers kept coming and coming, slashing and burning their way through
our patriotic hymn, and it appeared less and less likely that the Cyclones
would have to lower their standards to fill their 30 slots.
“No way,” Cohen said. “If we don’t get 30 tonight,
we’ll hold another audition.” (He’d better pencil several
Orda la-hand of
It’s times like these when even the president would have to admit
he’d rather hear an on-key Spanish singer than a bunch of tone-deaf
Endaho mada brayve!