Wayne Messmer, the National Anthem singer from the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, chatted with NBC Sports Chicago on the Blackhawks Talk podcast about one of the most iconic moments in Chicago sports history.
On Jan. 19, 1991 the NHL All-Star Game was held at Chicago Stadium. The celebration of the league's best players commenced just two days after Operation Desert Storm began the Gulf War.
Messmer has sung the National Anthem around Chicago for 30 years and was the Blackhawks anthem singer for 13. He notes the tradition of Hawks fans cheering the anthem began ahead of a 1985 playoff contest, with Chicago down 2-0 in the series to the Edmonton Oilers.
"It had been a little noisy when Hawks had played Vancouver," Messmer said. "Perhaps the year before or even in '83, but it was really games 3 and 4 of that series, the conference finals against Gretzky and the gang from Edmonton, where it began."
Messmer believes the '91 All-Star anthem was the hockey universe's introduction to Chicago's way of enjoying the Star Spangled Banner.
"Yeah, for sure," he said. "Because it was a few weeks earlier there was a game on that was televised nationally from the stadium and the decision was, 'Do not carry the anthem.' There was kind of a pushback, especially from the fans.
"So when they announced NBC was going to cover both anthems, it was like a challenge to the fans, 'Let's show them how it's done here.' And the signs and the flares and the sparklers and all of that, it was Twilight Zone surreal. You had to pinch yourself because it was really happening.
"And trying to get through that as a vocalist isn't easy because you got a huge, emotional lump in your throat. You want to be a part of that, but you're the guy that's got to light the wick."
The singer was able to take in the moment despite his monumental duty that day.
"I was certainly soaking it in," Messmer said. "I've always, as I will describe it, 'lived life with my eyes open.' But, I will tell you, it took enormous concentration. And I'm not saying, 'Hey, how swell I am,' but it's a technique of concentrating on technique, on breathing, on supporting and not shouting, not screaming and not trying to get louder because the crowd is getting louder."
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