Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Holocaust Survivor Sings National Anthem at Detroit Tigers Game

It's not unusual for a big name celebrity to sing the National Anthem at a Detroit Tigers' home game at Comerica Park if it's the Postseason. I've heard the Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Zooey Deschanel, Demi Lovato and several others during the playoffs. However, when it's a regular season game, the National Anthem is usually sung by someone local who has a good voice. This can be a military veteran, a local cantor, a school choir or even the cast of a local stage performance (the cast of Mitch Albom's "Hockey, the Musical" sang the National Anthem before a Tigers home game last week.

Across town at Joe Louis Arena, the Detroit Red Wings don't invite anyone to sing the National Anthem. Singer Karen Newman has had a lock on that job at Red Wings games for over 20 years. The fans love Karen Newman's rendition and the players consider it a good luck charm before games.

Perhaps the most famous rendition of the National Anthem was by Jose Feliciano, who set off a firestorm when he performed his own soulful arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner at Detroit's Tiger Stadium before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. He had been invited by Tigers' broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell and many around the nation were outraged by his rendition. Harwell stood up for Feliciano and the two became lifelong friends.

It's unusual for the National Anthem at a sporting event to get much media attention unless something goes horribly wrong like the singer is off key, forgets a line, inserts a different word or trips on the way out to the field or court. Whitney Houston's Super Bowl rendition garnered national attention because it was so beautiful, but that is unique. This past Saturday afternoon's rendition of the National Anthem before a Detroit Tigers' home game at Comerica Park has been covered by CNN, People Magazine and a host of other media outlets -- and for good reason.

Hermina Hirsch with Detroit Tigers mascot "Paws"
Hermina Hirsch with Detroit Tigers mascot "Paws"

Holocaust survivor Hermina Hirsch, age 89, had singing the National Anthem before a Detroit Tigers game on her bucket list for many years. She's a native of Czechoslovakia and has been a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. When Hermina was was only 17-years-old, her family members were sent to different concentration camps. She and her older sister were shuffled between five concentration camps, including Auschwitz, before finally being liberated in January 1945. Hermina has lived in Metro Detroit for over 60 years and currently lives in Southfield.

Before the Tigers' season began in April, Hermina's family, including her granddaughter Stacey Hirsch, with whom I attended Bloomfield Hills Andover High School, began a social media campaign to get the Detroit Tigers organization to invite Hermina to sing the National Anthem before a home game. A few people, including Stacey's cousin Amy Gantz Gers, asked me for help and I was glad to get the word out on my social networks and also suggested the names of two executives in the Tigers organization who might be able to expedite the request. After the local Detroit news media picked up on the story, as well as a few national media outlets, the Tigers acted quickly to invite Hermina to sing the National Anthem.

Hermina was escorted to the game this past Saturday at Comerica Park against the Tampa Bay Rays by her husband Bernard Hirsch of 69 years (who is also a big Tigers fan) and other members of her family. She did a wonderful job singing the National Anthem and the Tigers got a big win, beating the Rays 5-4 with home runs by Cameron Maybin, James McCann and J.D. Martinez. After the game Hermina told CBS Detroit News, "At my age, I figure that this would do it. I don’t want to die before I sing at a baseball game."

Hermina Hirsch sings the National Anthem before Detroit Tigers game

Even People Magazine picked up the story and included a photo of Hermina by my friend Jorge Lemus. Unfortunately no one at People Magazine caught the error in the magazine stating it was a Detroit Lions game rather than a Tigers game! Oh well, the bottom line is that Hermina Hirsch can cross this momentous experience off her bucket list.

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