After just interviewing Blackhawks National Anthem Singer, Jim Cornelison – we thought, with baseball season less than 2 Weeks away, we’d interview another gentleman who’s familiar with singing the Anthem, the friendliest face of the friendly confines, Wayne Messmer. Enjoy!
Chicago History: You were born on July 19th, 1950 – coincidentally, two days after my Mom was born. What hospital were you born at?
Wayne: Illinois Central Hospital, which later became Doctor’s Hospital of Hyde Park. It was raised a few years ago.
Chicago History: And where did you spend most of your youth/teenage years growing up?
Wayne: My childhood from age 6 through college was on Chicago’s Southwest Side in the Brighton Park neighborhood.
Chicago History: What high school did you attend?
Wayne: I graduated from Thomas Kelly High School where I was heavily involved in music with the band (I played the french horn) and in the musical productions.Chicago go History: What was your favorite sport & team, while growing up in Chicago?
Wayne: I loved the Milwaukee Braves (yes, prior to their move to Atlanta in 1965. I followed the White Sox through the ’60’s until the Cubs caught my eye in the summer of 1967 and certainly, in 1969.
Chicago History: What were some of your favorite memories about growing up in Chicago & Illinois as a whole?
Wayne: I was then and will always be a “Chicago Guy.” The City streets, the parks, the energy of the urban setting still runs through my veins every day.Chicago History: When did you first start to notice that your voice was absolutely exquisite?
Wayne: Thank you for that… your words not mine. 🙂 I discovered that I could sing while pretending to imitate real singers while still in HS. This is what got me involved in the musicals at Kelly HS and lit the fire of creativity that still burns stronger than ever now.
Chicago History: Describe what drove you into music & when and where it began and sort of started to take off?
Wayne: I begged for accordion lessons when I was 6 years old and finally got my wish when I turned 8. The older boy neighbor of mine was a very accomplished accordionist and a star baseball player and I thought, “If he can play the accordion and still be cool, so can I.” There is never a time when my accordion is not within reach.
Chicago History: What was the first gig you had singing in front of a large audience?
Wayne: I recall it as if it were yesterday. It was Parent’s Weekend at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in about 1971. I was asked to put a group together and entertain at a luncheon. So, I talked a couple of friends into playing piano, bass and drums and I sang some pop tunes and standards. The first song that I ever stood up and sang that day was “Leaving On a Jet Plane,” a Peter, Paul and Mary big hit. I was so nervous that I thought I might get sick. I didn’t, and neither did anyone in the audience. After that, it got easier and my confidence rose quickly.
Chicago History: Wow! From there, what was your first sporting event – date, that you sang the National Anthem at?
Wayne: It was a Loyola University Men’s Hockey Team game in 1973 at the Franklin Park Ice Arena. I had volunteered to do the P.A. for the games since I was then a graduate student at Loyola at the time. One night, the cassette (yes) tape broke and the Kate Smith version of the National Anthem wouldn’t play, so I stepped out of the penalty box onto the ice and just sang it, like I still do. The guys on the bench were in shock and the audience seemed to like it, so I kept on doing it for the rest of that season’s home games. I started sing professionally at sporting events (God Bless America) with the Chicago Sting Soccer Team in 1980-81.
Chicago History: What was the date you first sang the anthem at Wrigley Field?
Wayne: I came out to sing the Canadian and the U.S. National Anthems in the summer of 1984 when the Montreal Expos were in town. I was still working for the White Sox at the time as the P.A. Announcer and Anthem Soloist at Comiskey Park.
Chicago History: Describe your emotions at the time? Goosebumps to the fullest?
Wayne: I was no stranger to public performance, but the first time at Wrigley Field was special. It still is, even though I have sung well over a thousand times there now.
Chicago History: How were approached by the cubs to first sing in the friendly confines?
Wayne: My connection stemmed from a relationship with some Cubs marketing officials that I had worked with while at the Chicago Sting Soccer team from 1980 on.
Chicago History: How long have you been singing the anthem at Wrigley for?
Wayne: April 5th, 2015 – will be my 31st consecutive Opening Day (Opening Night in this case).
Chicago History: Are you still technically of have ever been an actual Cubs employee?
Wayne: For a number of years, I was technically a game day employee when serving as the P.A. Announcer/Anthem Soloist. My relationship with the Cubs at this point is one of selected personal services, including a pre-selected schedule of National Anthem performances and some appearances at special functions and the annual Cubs Convention.
Chicago History: Do you still sing before every home game?
Wayne: In addition to Opening Day, I will sing about 25-30 games each year. I am able to select my preferred dates prior to the start of the season and the Cubs will fill the remaining dates as needed.
Chicago History: Are you still the PA voice for the Cubs, if not, how come?
Wayne: My outside speaking schedule and my commitment to my financial services firm (Wayne Messmer and Associates, LLC) needed my attention and I chose to reduce my involvement to National Anthem duties exclusively.
Chicago History: You also worked for the BlackHawks correct?
Wayne: I was the permanent Anthem Soloist with the Blackhawks for 13 seasons from 1980-81 through the 1993-94 season at Chicago Stadium. For the record, it was during the NHL Playoffs in 1985 when the custom of cheering during the National Anthem began.
Chicago History: And you are part owner of the Chicago Wolves currently, correct?
Wayne: I am one of the founding partners of the Chicago Wolves, and still maintain a consulting role as Senior Executive Vice President. I Also sing the Anthem at all Wolves home games and serve as the commercial voice for the Wolves.
Chicago History: Were you an owner of the Wolves from their Birth as a franchise, if so – describe what it was like creating a team like that, that has made Chicago History & what led you into the position of wanting to be a part of owning a portion of the team?
Wayne: I was there from the very beginning. It was one of the greatest and most exciting
challenges of my professional career. I was hired to design the marketing, media, and game presentation plans for a start-up professional sports team. I also designed the staff organizational chart, wrote job descriptions and hired the professional staffers to become operational as we launched the team in October, 1994. The chance to be a part of Chicago sports history is a powerful attraction, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I simply could not pass up. I believe that the confidence from owner Don Levin in my business knowledge and abilities and the trust that he placed in me provided the incentive I needed to say “yes.”
Chicago History: In 1994, you were fired by the BlackHawks – sadly… Was it Bill Wirtz himself who fired you?
Wayne: Actually, it was the then VP/GM Bob Pulford who gave me the news that the organization viewed my involvement with the upstart Chicago Wolves as a “conflict of interest” and that they (Blackhawks) were “going to have to let me go.” I did return to sing the first regular season home game at the United Center in January, 1995 v Edmonton after the NHL resumed play following a lockout.
Chicago History: What was your relationship like with him, if any?
Wayne: I had very little contact with Mr. Wirtz throughout the 13 years of my game day employment.
Chicago History: Did you agree with him keeping BlackHawks games off television?
Wayne: I would have liked to have had the home games televised, but it was not to be during my time there.
Chicago History: Remembering this makes me sick. In April 1994, you were shot outside a restaurant in Chicago. What restaurant?
Wayne: Following a Blackhawks’ game on April 8, 1994, I stopped after the game (a 6-1 Hawks win over the St Louis Blues) at Hawkeye’s Bar & Grill on Taylor Street, not far from Chicago Stadium.
Chicago History: If we can ask, describe the incident & being shot in the throat, any normal person wouldn’t survive, but you did & you continued to sing, and sing like never before.
Wayne: Again… Thank you for the kind words. Being shot in the throat is a cruel irony, yet the survivor instinct kicked in and I had to concentrate on the uphill climb of doing the hard work that would lead to recovery.
Chicago History: You’re a survivor Wayne, what was it like coming back from such a horrific event in your life?
Wayne: One never knows the inner strength that we possess until we are called upon in such cases as mine. It is not the severity of the incident or trauma that test what we are made of, but rather, it is our reaction to it that truly shows what we are made of.
Chicago History: Did you ever think about ending your career as a singer or did doctors tell you, you won’t / or may not ever be able to sing again?
Wayne: I never fully accepted that I may be done singing, it was and is too much of who I am. Not a single doctor actually told that I would or that I would not sing again. The fact is that no medical charts or tests could measure what was in my heart. I simply could not allow the bad guys to win.
Chicago History: Where & when was the first time you returned to sing again, what was the date & what were the emotions like at the time?
Wayne: The “Comeback Anthem” took place exactly 6 months and 5 days after the incident at the first-ever home game of the new Chicago Wolves Hockey Team at the (then) Rosemont Horizon, (now, the Allstate Arena) on October 14, 1994. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The moment of celebration after singing is captured as the cover shot of my book, The Voice Of Victory (WPM Publishing 2000).
Chicago History: Could you ever see the Cubs playing anywhere else but Clark & Addison?
Wayne: Only road games 🙂
Chicago Hisrory: What’s been your favorite year with the Cubs & why?
Wayne: I really enjoyed the 1998 season and the play-in game win over the Giants at Wrigley Field.
Chicago History: In 1992, you appeared in the movie “Babe” about Babe Ruth, starring John Goodman. What was that like for you? How would you describe John Goodman & was he familiar with your work at that point?
Wayne: Another great life experience. I played the role of the NY Yankees radio announcer and somehow, everything that I did on film was kept in the movie. John Goodman was fun to be around during shooting. Yes, he knew my role with the Cubs and thought it was pretty cool, despite the fact that he is a Cardinals fan.
Chicago History: In 2012 – you released “So Lucky To Be Loving You” – a full 10 track LP album, that’s available on ITunes & Amazon.com – what was that like for you? Did you record the songs in Chicago, if so – where?
Wayne: This album had been in the discussion stage for a while with the legendary pianist Judy Roberts. We finally agreed to a studio date and did the recording and production at StudioMedia in Evanston, IL. This project was a very personal project for me to show the kind of singing that I love to do, in addition to the National Anthem, of course.
Chicago History: You’ve also become a great motivational speaker – what words would you use to empower Cubs fans heading into 2015 & the future as a whole?
Wayne: I would quote the wonderful past First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who said that “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Cubs fans need to believe that what they have only dreamed of to this point, is within reach.
Chicago History: To us, you are true Chicago History.
Wayne: Thanks for that.
Chicago History: When Chicago looks back at the legacy of Wayne Messmer, how would you like Chicago to remember you by?
Wayne: The true measure of a professional in any field can be measured in their consistency. I would hope that people will remember (Wayne Messmer) as “the guy who sang the National Anthem, the way it is supposed to be sung,” with respect, enthusiasm and genuine patriotism. Probably the most often discussed event where I have been involved is still the NHL All-Star Game at Chicago Stadium in January of 1991, just two days after the start of the Gulf War. I am proud to say that this particular performance of the Canadian and United States National Anthems is still listed among the greatest moments in Hockey history.
Chicago History: Define why you are Chicago? Because to us, you are the embodiment of the City.
Wayne: Now I’m blushing. I suppose that I am an authentic “Chicago guy” because I was was born and raised in the City, graduated from a Chicago Public High School and chose to “bloom where I was planted.” My love for the City of Chicago is something that I have always been outspoken about. My hometown is “My Kind of Town.”
Chicago History: Lastly, for fun – Even though the real Mount Rushmore contains four people, if you were to choose five, 5 people to represent your ideal Chicago/Illinois as a whole, Mount Rushmore – who would you choose?
Wayne: Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandberg, Daniel Burnham, Fritz Reiner and Richard J. Daley.
Chicago History: We love asking that question and hearing back the lists that people give us. Yours is a great one!
Chicago History: Lastly, anything you would like to plug?
I also perform a theatrical one-man show entitled Damien, the story of Father (Saint) Damien, the Leper Priest of Molokai. I have been performing this play since 2002
My book, The Voice Of Victory is subtitled, One Man’s Journey Through Healing and Forgiveness
As a professional speaker, I frequently appear to corporations and associations presenting my keynote talk entitled, “The Spirit Of A Champion,” sharing experiences and observations of decades of personal involvement in the worlds of business, sports and entertainment.
As a business owner of Wayne Messmer and Associates, LLC, a Chicago-based, full-service financial services company, I present between 50-60 retirement seminars each year, and have presented well over 700 such programs since founding the business in 2002.
Kathleen and I have been married for 31 years.
We have 2 grown daughters, Jennifer and Stephanie, 3 granddaughters and a grandson.
Chicago History: You sir, have led a wonderful life, an aspiring life, and most importantly a Chicago Life! We Thank you so much for your time Mr. Messmer.
You can follow Wayne on Twitter at @WayneMessmer
And you can follow us, Chicago History on Twitter as well, at @Chicago_History
I'm Jason, Chicago Historian in training, covering anything & everything that has to do with Chicago and the whole state of Illinois , around the clock, 25/8! In the end, all we have is our story. Our memories. My job is to deliver a buffet full of old Chicago style memories.