October 26, 2004


Robert Merrill, star of opera and Yankee Stadium, dies at 85 (Elizabeth Lesure, October 25, 2004 , ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Acclaimed singer Robert Merrill, the opera baritone who felt equally comfortable on opening night at the Metropolitan Opera House or opening day at Yankee Stadium, has died. He was 85. [...]

Merrill's lifelong enthusiasm for baseball led to his long tenure at Yankee Stadium, where he sang the national anthem on opening day for three decades.

Merrill, who often appeared in a pinstriped shirt and tattered Yankees necktie, performed the same duty for the Yankees during the World Series, the playoffs and at Old-timers' Day.

He took the job seriously and once said he didn't appreciate when singers tried to ad lib with "distortions."

"When you do the anthem, there's a legitimacy to it," Merrill told Newsday in 2000. "I'm bothered by these different interpretations of it."

If you grew up in the Tri-State area you heard him sing it literally dozens of times and every time as if it was his big break.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2004 12:09 AM

I don't know what Robert Merrill meant by "distortions", but I've heard "The Star Spangled Banner" sung in a jazzy style, with vocal riffs, and it sounded great.

I think that almost any version, sung with great sincerity and appreciation, would be fine.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 26, 2004 3:46 AM

He might have been referring to Roseanne Barr grabbing her crotch. That's a slight "distortion" I suppose. Dolly Parton singing it with her hand on her ..er heart is considerably more patriotic.

Posted by: h-man at October 26, 2004 6:39 AM

I don't like when people jazz it up even if it is a truly awful song. Remember Jose Feliciano's version(wonderfully spoofed by Robert Klein).

The best interpreter of national anthems was Rene Doucet of Montreal. Merrill was excellent, even into his dotage.

As an aside, I thought Beyonce did a fantastic job singing it a capella at the Super Bowl.

Posted by: Bart at October 26, 2004 6:57 AM

About the only smart thing CBS and Mike Burke did when the network owned the Yankees was to being using Robert Merrill -- live or on tape -- to do the national anthem before the start of games in the late 1960s (though the "change-of-pace" version the Yanks used, sung by Jerry Vale -- always sounded as if it had been recorded with both Mr. Vale and the orchestra covered in about 15 sets of blankets).

Posted by: John at October 26, 2004 7:48 AM

Speaking of which, what's with the Red Sox? Before ALCS Game 3 and World Series Game 2, they had some burned-out hippies with guitars "singing" something that sort of resembles the "Star-Spangled Banner." If you want to get rid of the curse, you need to keep hippies away from baseball.

/Hank Hill rant mode.

Posted by: Random Lawyer at October 26, 2004 10:30 AM

It was Aerosmith who apparently are from the Boston area and own season tickets. But then Tom Werner, the nugget head who gave us Roseanne Barr doing the anthem, is now a part-owner of the Sox.

Posted by: Bart at October 26, 2004 12:06 PM

By distortions, I believe he must be referring to the obligatory yodeling when they get to "land of the free, and the home of the brave".

Damn it, this is AMERICA, not a damned canton of Switzerland!

Posted by: Ptah at October 26, 2004 2:42 PM