Before each Chicago Blackhawks game, Jim Cornelison steps onto the ice.
He does not play for the team, but he plays a critical role to the team’s recent success, although he would not personally admit it.
Cornelison steps onto the ice in front of roughly 20,000 cheering fans in the United Center 41 times a season (more if the Blackhawks make the playoffs), to perform one job …
Sing the national anthem.
Cornelison, the Hoosier
After graduating from Seattle Pacific University, Cornelison attended Indiana University, where he got his master’s in Opera Performance from the Jacobs School of Music in 1992.
Being married, Cornelison lived in the university’s married student housing. He recalls plenty of trips to Mother Bear’s, which was right across the street from his apartment, and of course, he had some good times at Bear’s Place, as it’s located next to the music school.
When he wasn’t enjoying the delicious food at these restaurants or singing opera, Cornelison would find himself in the HPER building playing basketball.
Cornelison said that when he was in the opera he would gain weight, and basketball was a good avenue to shed those added pounds.
“Every time I would quit playing basketball, I would spend too much time eating pizza and drinking beer while I was in the opera, and I would lose it all when I could go back to playing basketball after I was finished with the opera.”
Attending IU in 1992 meant that Cornelison got to witness the men’s basketball team led by Calbert Cheaney and Greg Graham reach the Final Four.
Cornelison recalls the energy on campus surrounding the team and said that it was an exciting time to be a Hoosier. When he attended his first-ever basketball game, Cornelison was taken away by the pregame ceremony.
“They were running around with the flag and they were all bowing to it. I had never seen anything like it before, it was a little over the top, but it was fun.”
Cornelison becomes a Chicago institution
Cornelison moved to Chicago in 1995 to be a member in the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists. After he left, Cornelison was managed by Columbia Artists. There, he began performing around the world as he sang in both Europe and the United States.
He started with the Blackhawks in 1996. Singing part-time, Cornelison was a part of a group of singers that the franchise brought in to sing the anthem. He sang for the team until 2001 then took a hiatus until he returned in 2008 as the full-time anthem singer.
He never imagined that his role would ever become as invaluable as it is today. He was going through a divorce at the time and was starting work in retail so he could not travel to do opera.
“I thought what the heck, doing the anthem would be good exposure for business,” Cornelison said. “But, that first season we went to the Western Conference Finals and the next year we won the Stanley Cup. From there, it just took off, right away.”
After that first Stanley Cup win, the Blackhawks surprised Cornelison with a championship ring. Today, he has three of them.
“After the first championship I knew somebody put my name in for a ring, but that doesn’t mean you will get it,” Cornelison said. “A month before opening day, I got a phone call telling me to come down to get sized for a ring, and I was super-excited. It felt surreal, I couldn’t believe it.”
Before each performance, he doesn’t do a lot to prepare as it’s only one song. Sometimes he changes which key he sings the anthem in to change it up. Other than that, Cornelison sings to himself before he goes out on the ice.
“When I get into the penalty box, I sing a little bit down there.” he said. “I’ll get about three inches from the glass, and sing right into it as the sound will bounce right back into my face. It gets too loud in there to hear yourself otherwise.”
He said that he doesn’t have a complicated routine, but rather he follows a normal path that gives him a certain amount of comfort.
Out of the countless games Cornelison has performed at, one in particular that stands out would be Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2013 as he could feel the crowd’s energy as he stepped onto the ice.
“That night, as soon as the lights came on the place exploded,” Cornelison said. “They didn’t stop until the anthem was over with. I’ve done this enough now, that you get a sense of a normal crowd. There are still moments that they will do something that surprises you, and that was one of those nights.”
The dream of singing at Assembly Hall
There are a couple of reasons why Cornelison wants to sing the anthem in Assembly Hall.
- First, he enjoys singing in charged environments, and he said that Assembly Hall has a super-charged atmosphere that would be fun to be a part of.
- Second, being an alum from the school he yearns to return to his alma mater and contribute to the tradition of Indiana basketball.
He has been invited to sing the anthem from a number of universities including Kansas and Notre Dame.
While singing at a Jayhawks game in Lawrence, Cornelison had an epiphany.
“When I was down there, I was like ‘Why in the hell haven’t I done this at IU?’ Cornelison said. “Why am I here in Lawerence singing a college game? How come they have reached out to me, but nobody at IU has?”
Cornelison added that about halfway through that anthem, the Jayhawks’ crowd really got into it and that it was a lot of fun, but Assembly Hall would be better.
With Notre Dame, he finds it troubling being an IU alum and added, “Why am I singing the anthem at Notre Dame and not IU?”
It’s past due for Cornelison to return to Indiana to sing the anthem before a basketball game. If he had to choose a game it would be either Purdue (for obvious reasons), Duke or Michigan.
“Singing for the Purdue game would be wonderful,” Cornelison said. “Doing the anthem against Duke would be pretty cool as well.”
Duke was the team that beat Indiana in the Final Four back when he was a student. To help IU beat Duke by amping up the atmosphere would be some sweet revenge for Cornelison.
His son graduated from the University of Michigan, and Cornelison said that he would have some added motivation singing the anthem for a game against them.
“Michigan would be sort of a double-whammy for me,” Cornelison said. “When I was a student, we went up against Michigan when they had the Fab Five. There’s a strong sense of animosity to beat Michigan that still resides to this day.”
Cornelison has witnessed the raising of three banners in Chicago, and who knows? Maybe if he gets the chance to return to his alma mater to sing the anthem, he would assist Indiana in raising its sixth banner.
Let’s make it happen
Cornelison is a proud Hoosier alum and a renowned, beloved anthem singer. It’s time for Indiana University to invite Cornelison to sing the anthem before an IU basketball game super-charge the Assembly Hall environment.
“There is just so much energy in Assembly Hall, and it would be really cool to be a part of it,” Cornelison said.
Yes it would. For everyone involved.
If you want to have Jim come and super-charge Assembly Hall before a big game, send this post to your fellow IU fans and share it on your social accounts! 🙂
Use this hashtag: #CornelisonIUBB
You can find Cornelison on Twitter: @Anthem_Singer. Tag him and let him know you’re rooting for it to occur.
Together, let’s make this happen!