Jim Cornelison singing before a hockey game. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks
Editor's note: The following profile was first printed in SPU’s Spring 2011 Alumni Connections. You can also hear the June 2, 2015, NPR feature about Cornelison performing before the NHL Stanley Cup Final.
Before Chicago Blackhawks home hockey games, Jim Cornelison ’86 sings the National Anthem “full throttle.”
Something special happens when his rich tenor voice, honed in opera houses from Brussels to Santa Fe, fills Chicago's United Center. Twenty thousand fans erupt in cheers and applause until the building reverberates in patriotic fervor.
“It’s impossible not to have a strong emotional reaction,” says Cornelison, a sales agent for Rubloff Residential Properties. "I have to keep cool and not get too carried away. It is arguably the greatest tradition in professional sports.”
The resulting celebrity has given Cornelison an interesting life. “One fan told me I have the greatest part-time job in the world!” But though he has appeared on the major networks and been introduced to Chicago’s social elite, he takes great satisfaction in that his singer-songwriter son James, 17, has already made a splash in the Chicago blues scene. “And my daughter, Elizabeth, 12, is developing quite the set of pipes as well.”
At SPU, Cornelison was a member of the Victory Quartet; he was also a chorister with the Seattle Opera. His most influential professor was Vernon Wicker, now retired, who taught voice and helped him communicate text and emotion.
Though he has sung around the globe, Cornelison’s professional singing career kept him on the road seven months each year. It not only put a strain on the family, but it was also “much more fun at 30 than at 40.” Factor in that the opera season and the hockey season collided, and he needed to choose.
Real estate was a way after quitting opera to make money quickly and still remain his own boss. And the anthem? “It's always a rush. I love being a part of the celebration of being American and a Blackhawks fan!”
Jim Cornelison talks about pre-game anthem preparations. He sings the National Anthem at the Seattle Seahawks-Chicago Bears playoff game in December 2010.
Video: Jim Cornelison sings the National Anthem at the Seattle Seahawks-Chicago Bears playoff game in December 2010.