I was watching the NHL All-Star Game last Saturday and looking forward to a fun evening of hockey.
Then Lauren Jauregui ruined it.
Jauregui decided she would sing her own rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at SAP Center in front of a worldwide audience. She must have thought she was on “American Idol” or “The Voice.”
As she screeched her way through the song (and bravo to the VGK fans who attempted to drown her out by yelling “KNIGHT”), I could only think of one thing:
“Where the hell was Carnell Johnson when America needed him?”
Understand that I usually don’t rant about national anthems, or pregame routines in general. Whether they are singers who perform or athletes who choose to stand respectfully (see Nate Schmidt) or prefer to kneel (Colin Kaepernick) I respect everyone’s right to sing it and listen to it however they choose.
I know it’s not an easy song to sing and I have been in every NHL arena and have heard it butchered more than once.
So this isn’t about Lauren Jauergui. If she wants to sing it her way, fine. I also don’t have to like it.
This is about Carnell Johnson, a man who sings it the right way every time. No schmaltz. No interpretation. He sings it the way it’s supposed to be sung — with respect for flag and for country.
Johnson is a 37-year-old Las Vegan who is a trained bass-baritone singer. He works as a gondolier at The Venetian and when (Pippo, his gondolier name) is on the job, he is the most requested person.
The man they call “Golden Pipes” is as good as any anthem singer you’ll find in any sport, anywhere.
Yes, Jim Cornelison is considered the gold standard in the NHL. Johnson himself says the man at the United Center whose voice cannot be drowned out by the Chicago Blackhawks’ fans and who points to the stars and stripes when he sings “that our flag was still there …” is legendary. Whenever NBC does a Blackhawks game in Chicago, it will show Cornelison on the telecast. Maybe it’s in Doc Emrick’s contract.
And there are plenty of other wonderful performers across the NHL. I still think Roger Doucet, who sang “O Canada” at the Montreal Forum during the 1970s and sang it bilingually, is the greatest anthem singer ever.
In hockey, the anthem singer is a big part of the pregame. So when Johnson does NOT perform at T-Mobile Arena, you can feel a letdown from the Golden Knights fans. He is the people’s choice, plain and simple.
It is most humbling. Personally, it is a sign of acceptance. It’s very heartwarming. -Carnell Johnson
Most of you know the story. He was one of 600 who sent in an audition tape and worked his way toward getting a shot. He was not the Golden Knights’ first choice.
But once he performed, the fans loved him. He hit every note right. He sang it with love and devotion. I remember tweeting after his very first performance — “The Knights have found their anthem singer.”
And Johnson found himself in a rotation of sorts as the team had others perform. But every time Johnson performed, the Knights won. Or it seemed that way. And hockey’s culture is as superstitious as it gets. Whether it was Bill Foley, George McPhee, Kerry Bubolz or Brian Killingsworth who made the decision, Johnson was made “The Man.”
His Knights jersey has the name “GOLDENPIPES” on the back and the No. 1. The Knights gave him a scarf to give him a little more of an identity, not to keep his vocal chords warm. He started adding pins for every performance (He’s up to 16 pins for this season). And when he forgot his scarf in the dressing room a couple of weeks ago, people freaked out.
It was three weeks until they called me back. The fans bought me a jersey. The scarf was the team’s thing. Someone gave me a pin and as they kept calling me, I’d add another pin. –Johnson
When he steps onto the ice to perform and PA announcer Bruce Cusick announces him, the place goes nuts. And it just feels right. And Normal.
So why does Johnson sing the anthem the way he does?
Here’s how I always word it — I do it how it was written. Lauren’s interpretation of it was that. That being said, there are songs you can interpret. But the anthem, any anthem, I don’t think you can interpret. -Johnson
And for him, an African-American, to be received by a predominantly White audience means so much to him.
“Being accepted as an American, patriotic, it shows me that there are people who are going to think what they are going to think and have a one straight mind; but there other people out there who say, ‘I stand because of you.’ -Johnson
The reality is this isn’t about color. It’s about a magnificent voice. If he was White, Asian or Latino, who would really give a damn? The next time he sings at a Golden Knights game, close your eyes, listen to the love and respect he gives the song.
He is not letting the attention go to his head. He sits in Section 1 at T-Mobile (the Knights give him seats). He’s always polite to the fans and is building up a following on social media (His Twitter handle is @goldenpipesLV).
Jim Cornelison started following me on Twitter. That was pretty cool. -Johnson
His gondolier duties at The Venetian are more on an on-call basis these days. He hasn’t worked there since October. But Johnson’s big goal is to perform on Broadway. It’s his dream job. But he also would love to do commercials, voice-overs for TV and other opportunities to use that magnificent voice.
For now, that voice is shared with the hockey fans of Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights have made a lot of smart decisions, both on and off the ice. The decision to have Carnell Johnson as the team’s primary anthem singer may have been among its smartest. That’s one they definitely got right.
My third author signing for my book — “Vegas Born” will be this Saturday from 3-7 p.m. at Sunset Station’s Club Madrid at the VGK Watch Party for the Knights-Florida game. Admission is free and we hope to have a great turnout.
One important note — sales for the book, which is $28.95, will be CASH ONLY. Unfortunately, I’m not set up to accept credit cards.
My thanks to everyone who has attended the first two book signings. If you live in the Henderson area, this is your chance to get the book signed close to home.
If you can’t make it to Saturday’s event, we will have one final author signing — March 18 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Red Rock Resort Race & Sports Book. More on that as we get closer.
Hope to see a lot of SinBinners Saturday at Sunset Station!
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**