It was 1:15 at Wrigley Field, the sun was shining bright, and
the bums in the bleachers were waiting for their Cubbies to take
the field. Down in the Chicago batter's box, Anthem Annie was
waiting, too. She stepped up to the mike, took a gulp of air and
let 'er rip. The P.A. system carried her Star Spangled Banner
over infield dirt, outfield grass and bleacher brick. Annie's
operatic soprano drowned everything in its path, rolling in a
flood of orotund vowels.
Donna Greenwald, as Anthem Annie is known back home in Columbia,
Md., has been belting 'em out of ballparks since 1992. The
"30ish" mother of three aims to sing her rendition in every
major league stadium. Wrigley, last summer, was number 8, and
after a strike-induced hiatus, she is now up to 13.
Though Greenwald is in only her fourth Banner season, her
connection to song goes back at least two generations. Her
grandmother, Shirley Rodman, lived next door to Al Jolson.
Donna's mother, Phyllis Krasner, was a Florence Henderson clone
who headlined in the University of Chicago's Faculty Wives Show.
"Donna never sang much as a child," recalls Mom. "She was kind
of scared to open her mouth."
Donna's early engagements were pretty much limited to warbling
Ave Maria at weddings and Sunrise, Sunset at bat mitzvahs. She
was playing a nun in a dinner-theater production of The Sound
of Music in Burtonsville, Md., when someone suggested she sing
at Baltimore's Camden Yards. How do you solve a problem like
auditions? By having your husband buy you a karaoke machine and
sending the Orioles a tape.
Camden Yards is only a 10-minute drive from Fort McHenry, site
of the 1814 British bombardment that inspired Francis Scott Key
to write the poem that became our national anthem. "When I sang
for the Orioles I thought, My gosh," Greenwald says, "here I am
being saluted by 46,000 fans. Me, an ordinary housewife." A
month later she encored at Comiskey Park in her native Chicago.
Since then, Greenwald has played Toronto, New York (both parks),
Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Colorado,
Pittsburgh, Detroit and Baltimore again. In Philly she was
hugged by the Phanatic, and before performing at Yankee Stadium,
she got to sit in the home dugout. "There was so much spit
flying around, I thought about putting on a raincoat," she says.
"But I figured I'd be a man and sit back and enjoy it."
The anthem is an ungainly thing. With a melody lifted from an
18th-century beer-hall ditty, it's as hard to understand as it
is to sing--not surprising considering it was written by a
lawyer. The song's excruciating vocal range is 13 notes, a full
octave and a fifth. Greenwald preps by sucking lemons and
sipping hot water. "And I don't eat for four hours beforehand,"
she says. Not even a ballpark frank? "No way! It's hard enough
to project as it is. I don't want my belly full of anything."
Except perhaps a little Greenwald. Donna was eight months
pregnant at her SkyDome gig. "People told me they heard
harmony," she says. "They wondered if it was coming from inside
me." Appropriately, she gave her baby girl the middle name Dawn.
Greenwald doubts her enthusiasm for the anthem will ever flag.
Nor does she worry about forgetting the lyrics, as Robert Goulet
did in 1965 before the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch. She
always brings a crib sheet along, but she's never had to use it.
"My biggest fear is stadium-echo delays," she says. "Because you
can't hear yourself, you can lose your place in the song."
Unlike Roseanne's interpretation, Greenwald's has never brought
red glares. "People ask me when I'm gonna spit and grab my
crotch," Greenwald says. "The answer is, When hell freezes over."
When not working as a volunteer at the Babe Ruth Museum in
Baltimore, Greenwald often practices the patriotic airs of
other nations. She has O Canada down cold and is working on La
Marseillaise. Soon she hopes to tackle Japan's stirring Kimigayo
and Denmark's unforgettable Kong Kristian stod ved hjen mast. "I
want to be prepared for every event from the World Series to the
World Cup," she says.
Encouraged by her success in baseball, Greenwald entered
politics a few years back, opening a Ross Perot rally in
Maryland. "I didn't vote for him, but he was nice," she says.
"He gave me a big hug."
Who was the better hugger, Perot or the Phillie Phanatic?
"Perot," she says. "He didn't knock me down before I sang."
COLOR PHOTO: KEVIN REPPENHAGEN/KRR PHOTOGRAPHY Greenwald started her quest at Camden Yards in 1992. [Donna Greenwald on scoreboard screen singing National Anthem]