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Chicago Blackhawks: National Anthem History

By Colin Likas
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Happy Fourth of July to all who celebrate it! There’s always a chance the Chicago Blackhawks could try to sneak a signing (Marcus Kruger, please) or a trade (Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg, please) under everyone’s collective nose today, as many eyes are turned to parades, fireworks and general celebrating.

We’ve talked about the potential for those moves, and many others, a lot lately on Blackhawk Up. With today being the Fourth of July, however, let’s talk about something a little different.

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The Fourth of July is one of three big days, in my personal opinion, for songs and ballads of American patriotism — things like the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and other pieces of that nature. Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day are two other occasions when you might hear such music a little more frequently than on the average day.

Let’s focus on the Star Spangled Banner — America’s national anthem — for this article. The Blackhawks have an interesting tie to the anthem, that being fans at the United Center cheering wildly while it’s sung, mainly by Jim Cornelison in recent years. The practice doesn’t have an official “founding” date, though many point to the NHL All-Star Game held at Chicago Stadium in 1991 for the tradition’s start.

Wayne Messmer, who you can still find singing at plenty of Chicago Cubs games, belted out the anthem while fans cheered around him, many holding American flags or signs relating to the then-ongoing Gulf War. For these fans, their boisterous reaction to the anthem was simply a show of patriotism and appreciation for their country, and especially their troops fighting overseas.

For another point of view, a website called fromthisseat.com suggests the anthem cheering began during the 1985 Conference Finals series against Edmonton.

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  • Though the cheering tradition was tough for fans to keep going during the Blackhawks’ lean years, it never died out. That changed when policies surrounding the team began to change, the current core was put into place and singer Jim Cornelison was hired to take care of anthem duties, all in or around 2007.

    Since then, Cornelison has delivered rousing anthem after rousing anthem, his voice booming through raucous crowds and his distinct gesture to the United States flag generating even more of a reaction among the fans. Cornelison is always joined by multiple individuals who served in some branch of the American military, as well as a Native American veteran carrying the Eagle Feather Staff.

    Unfortunately, there are some who seem to be angered or frustrated by Blackhawks fans’ cheering during the anthem. That’s not just referring to the Nashville Predators organization, which was seemingly more focused on finding ways to stop Blackhawks fans at Bridgestone Arena from cheering during the anthem than winning a playoff series this year. Some Chicago fans feel the tradition is disrespectful to the military, the flag and the nation.

    This post isn’t meant to argue one way or the other on the matter. Cheering the anthem is a sign of respect for the country and those who have served it, but it is also important to respect those who don’t feel cheering during the anthem is appropriate. Being silent during the anthem and simply addressing the United States flag is also a sign of respect for one’s country.

    So don’t be angry at another person for deciding to cheer the anthem or for deciding to stay silent. In the big picture, both parties are paying tribute to their country in a way they feel more appropriate. But it is important to understand why Blackhawks fans cheer during the anthem. It isn’t a means of scaring the opponent; it’s ultimately a means of tribute.

    And with that, enjoy some of the best from the Cornelison era in national anthem singing at the United Center. Also something fans might find interesting, a Fox 32 Chicago feature on Cornelison put together during the 2014 playoffs.

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