The Star Spangled Banner, the U.S. National Anthem – the most important song in American history and it was written, as public address announcer Bruce Cunningham tells us before every game, “right here in Baltimore.”
That is true, as Baltimore lawyer Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics to the tune while aboard a British vessel, the HMS Tonnant, while trying to negotiate the release of several War of 1812 prisoners and saw the American flag still flying while he watched the Battle of Fort McHenry take place from his quarters below decks.
The poem Key wrote was later set to a popular song of the times and became the anthem heard today before nearly every American sporting event, political, and military event.
What is also true is that Key’s Anthem, meant to be shared with the American public, has been far less- than-shared when it comes to the performance of it in the town in which it was written.
Since the Ravens arrival as an NFL franchise in 1996, only one person has sung nearly every National Anthem at the team’s games: Mishael Miller.
(Now, here is where I want to make a full disclosure and take myself out of the discussion: I have personally performed the Anthem at sporting events including Orioles, Baltimore Mariners, Bay Area Shuckers, and University of Maryland women’s basketball games.
I can personally attest how hard it is to sing this song, and I have been singing professionally since 2008 and in choirs and bands since second grade. I think Miller does a truly outstanding job in his performance of the song, and is a great singer. Nothing in this column should even suggest otherwise. Also, I am not writing this column to seek (for myself) a chance to sing at a Ravens game. In fact, I would ask the Ravens not to consider me for this even if given the chance because I want to write this piece objectively.)
Having said all of that, other than the network-TV or NFL-required “subs” for Miller, nobody else, in a city as diverse and talented as Baltimore, and a market as diverse and talented as the Baltimore/DC market is, has been allowed by the Ravens to perform the song.
Miller himself is a graduate of Morgan State University and is a local assistant pastor (at A.M.E. Zion Church) when he’s not singing for the Ravens. His performances are always passionate and he usually hits all the right notes, though he curiously often pronounces the word “banner” as “ban-nor” but that’s just a stylistic, picky point. He does a great job, but he’s not the only good singer in the area, and the Ravens’ policy is depriving the City from showcasing many of the other talented performers it has.
That’s just plain wrong.
Baltimore has one of the foremost music institutes in the country (Peabody) for which even Miller successfully auditioned (but did not attend), yet no other singing stars produced from the school ever get to sing the Anthem.
There are touring shows that come in and out of town almost weekly to the Hippodrome with some of the greatest voices Broadway has to loan to Baltimore. Yet none of them are ever offered a shot.
Baltimore has produced some of the finest actors and performers in the entertainment business including Dru Hill, Mario, and Jada Pinkett to name a few. Yet none of them get to sing the song.
The US military, with its great singers in multiple armed forces groups, has been nearly shut out from singing (but for a one-off when Miller had a scheduling conflict). Talented young children, from Carver Center or School for the Arts? They too have been shunned by the team.
Ditto any of the hot indie bands that have come out of Baltimore, including Beach House, which is one of the biggest acts anywhere, except when it comes to being asked to sing the National Anthem.
The Ravens declaring a monopoly on the most sacred secular song in America doesn’t make any sense – even though Miller is just doing what team is asking him to do – is a stupid policy and should be changed.
I reached out to the Ravens for their comment on this story and they responded with the following statement from Assistant Director of Public Relations Patrick Gleason:
“Except for rare occasions when the NFL provides a singer for nationally-televised games, Mishael has been at nearly every game – and, we’ve done that since the franchise began in 1996. Mishael singing the Anthem has become a Ravens’ tradition. He represents Baltimore exceptionally well, as he’s a Morgan State grad who has strong ties to the area. In addition to that, Mishael is outstanding, and he can sing Anthems of various lengths. From a practical standpoint, he can hurry if TV needs us to finish quickly for its run-down, or he can stretch it out if we’re waiting for a flyover. That’s a valuable and unique asset he provides.”
Gleason also mentioned a few of the national TV-game Anthem singers, including Lee Greenwood (2005), Javier Colon (“The Voice” contestant, in 2012) and the aforementioned U.S. Army Chorus performance on Miller’s scheduling conflict (before the Carolina Panthers game, but that’s not really diversity, but rather one-offs for only select games.
The Ravens’ point that Miller can tailor an Anthem to their liking – and based on TV needs – is important, but not to the extent that no one else should get a shot.
On the flip side, the Ravens shouldn’t get rid of Miller, either. Yet, it would hurt absolutely no one to allow other singers for five games, including national TV games, and Miller the other five on the home schedule. That would be a much more sensible if fairness is a guide.
It should also be said that the Ravens policy of having one singer was one that began when the team was still in Cleveland, as Miller noted in a 2012 article in The Baltimore Afro-American.
“They told me they had a permanent singer when the franchise was still the Browns… so they wanted a permanent singer in Baltimore too and I was the right man for the job,” said Miller to the newspaper.
But with other sports teams in the area like the Orioles, Blast, and college teams all willing to have multiple singers, why can’t the Ravens do it too?
After 17 years, at least some degree of change makes sense.