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In The Stanley Cup Final, National Anthem Singers Also Compete


This is the best time of year in hockey. The NHL Stanley Cup finals are starting tomorrow between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning. But as the games move between those two cities, there will be another competition to watch - a patriotic one.


JIM CORNELISON: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light...


That is the voice of Jim Cornelison, who will perform the anthem when the series is in Chicago. When he's singing, the crowd isn't humming along. They're full-on screaming.


CORNELISON: (Singing) ...And bright stars through the perilous fight...

GREENE: And Cornelison tells us that it is hard to accurately describe just how loud Chicago's United Center gets when he is singing.

CORNELISON: There are times I cannot hear myself, and it's powerful. You know, they put the decibel monitor on it once, and they came up with a reading around 22 decibels, which is something like a shotgun blast.

GREENE: Sounds like it. He has been belting out the anthem at Blackhawks home games for the past seven seasons. Cornelison is widely considered the gold standard in anthem singing. He's a trained opera singer. But in these Stanley Cup finals, there is some serious competition.


TECH. SGT. SONYA BRYSON: (Singing) And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air gave proof...

MONTAGNE: Singing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, that's Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sonya Bryson. She'll have the first shot when the series starts in Tampa tomorrow night. Bryson first sang for the team in 2013. In other sports, teams rotate anthem singers pretty much every game, but most NHL teams stick with the same singer. Bryson says that allows her to develop a real bond with the fans.

BRYSON: It's not so much in how you sound. It's what the people are feeling when you're finished.

GREENE: These two singers sort of reflect the hockey cultures of their respective cities. Chicago has a team with hard-hitting veterans. It's one of the NHL's original six franchises. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is a more recent expansion team made up mostly of talented but unheralded players. Soon, just one team - Bryson's Lightning or Cornelison's Blackhawks - will hoist Lord Stanley's cup...


CORNELISON: (Singing) For the land of the free and the home of the brave. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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