October 1993 - We Invite You To Rise...

If the Star Spangled Banner wasn't played before sporting events, when would we ever hear it? Seldom. Did you ever wonder how this tradition of playing the national anthem before virtually all sporting events started? Did you know that Fenway Park, a bastion of tradition, had a role in creating this ritual?

According to Robert Creamer in Babe, his wonderful book about the life and times of former Red Sox George Herman Ruth, the seeds of the custom were planted in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cubs.

The series opened in Chicago, and to accommodate the larger post-season crowds, the Cubs moved to the South Side and larger-capacity Comiskey Park. As the crowd came to their feet for the seventh-inning stretch (according to legend, President William Howard Taft unwittingly established this tradition 1910) the marching band in attendance spontaneously broke into the song that didn't become our official national anthem until 1931. Players and fans alike snapped to attention, faced the flagpole in center field, and began to sing. Driven by the patriotic fervor of World War I, the crowd burst into applause at the song's conclusion. As a result, the song was played in the stretch innings of Games 2 and 3, also in Chicago.

When the Series moved to Fenway for Game 4, Sox owner and showman Harry Frazee instructed the band to play the song during the pre-game ceremonies. By all accounts, this was the first time that the Star Spangled Banner was played prior to a sporting event. For several years afterward, the anthem was played only on the religious holidays of Opening Day and the World Series. In the 1940s, the combination of electronic PA systems and World War II patriotism made the tune commonplace before every baseball game. Soon after, the practice spread to virtually all other sporting events.

John Kiley, who died this summer, was the "musical director" of Fenway Park for 38 years. From 1953 to 1989, Kiley played Fenway's wonderful organ. Between his selection of tunes (heavy on the schmaltz) and his style, he was truly the king of the genre. The crown jewel of Kiley's repertoire was the national anthem. Playing the song the way it should be played, he belted out the ol' S.S.B. like a Sousa march. Kiley would routinely and robustly play the song in under a minute. No two-and-a-half minute taped drone of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to render you numb, as is done in Texas. Kiley's version could make anyone proud to be an American.

I've visited 28 Major League ballparks, and it's my humble opinion that no one played a ballpark organ better than Mr. Kiley. I recognized how special this talent and tradition was even before I moved to Boston in 1982. During my first baseball season here, I purposely bought tickets in the bleachers one section away from speakers that used to stand right next to the seats. I used a recording Walkman to capture not only Kiley's anthem, but the golden throat of Sherm Feller, booming out "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we invite you to rise, and please sing, as John Kiley plays our national anthem."

John Kiley lives on in my living room. Each spring, as baseball season approaches, I blast his 58-second version of the national anthem through my stereo at a volume approaching that of the ballpark. It not only shakes the rafters, but it gives me this strange and wonderful tingling sensation deep inside my chest. In anticipation and celebration of Opening Day and the season at hand, I've created my own tradition from two others: The Star Spangled Banner and John Kiley.

©1993 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


At March 10, 2007 at 6:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Doug, Great site. Please visit mine. www.shermfeller.com. If you have a minute please leave a memory or two of Sherm. I'll post it with a link back to your blog.

Take care

Gary Titus

Mon Mar 13, 06:17:00 PM MST

At March 10, 2007 at 6:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless John Kiley and Sherm Feller. Fenway park will never be the same without them. Thanks for the site!
Mark Vinette
Tampa FL

Wed Jun 21, 09:40:00 PM MDT

At March 10, 2007 at 6:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful comment on John Kiley and Sherm Feller. I have my comments posted on the Sherm Feller site and I thought I was the only Kiley fanatic until I found the site. Believe it or not I have the recording of Attention please......etc. and play it every day including the anthem. It brings back memories that no one could believe and I love every second of it.

Sun Oct 29, 02:41:00 AM MST

At May 6, 2007 at 8:02 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of all the music I've ever heard at any ballpark, stadium, or arena; one piece stands alone:

John Kiley's haunting rendition of Spanish Eyes.


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