BECAUSE I CAN – RICH PASCHALL

Wayne Messmer Sings, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Cubs Win

If you are from the Chicagoland area, or follow the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, you may know his name and his face.  You certainly know his voice.  As far as we are concerned here, he is the best National Anthem singer in the country.  There is no fooling around when Wayne sings.  He delivers the anthem as it was written.  There are no variations to the melody or guitar solos.  He delivers it each time in a rich baritone voice, full of passion and conviction. We consider it a privilege to follow along.  There will be no runs for beer or hot dogs when Wayne grabs the mic and takes to the field.

Wayne Messmer is a multi-talented guy.  His Facebook page introduces him as “Certified Speaking Professional, Singer, Storyteller, Live Entertainer. Chicago guy!”  In addition to singing for the Cubs, Wayne is Executive Vice President and national anthem singer for the AHL hockey team, Chicago Wolves.  He has a Sunday night Jazz and Blues radio program.  He gives live performances around the area.  While doing local theater many years ago he met his wife Kathleen, also a talented singer. They have performed together over the years at stadiums and clubs.

In 1991 Wayne’s dynamic performance of the Anthem at the NHL All-Star game in Chicago was carried around the nation and across Armed Forces networks.  It is still talked about for reasons that will be obvious here.  In the final year at the old Chicago Stadium, 1994, Wayne Messmer, age 43, was a beloved local celebrity.  It all nearly came to an end following a Blackhawk’s home game in April of that year.

Late at night following the game, Wayne left a restaurant and made it to his car in the old Stadium neighborhood.  When he got in his car there was a banging on the window.  Then a shot was fired at point-blank range.  It went through the driver side window, then through Wayne’s throat and lodged in muscle tissue.  Wayne drove off and back to the restaurant where he was found and taken to a local hospital.  Reportedly, one of Kathleen’s first concerns when she reached the hospital was whether Wayne would be able to speak and sing.

A few days later at the Chicago Stadium no substitute would do for the anthems at a Blackhawk’s playoff game.  Wayne appeared on tape.  There was no mistaking the sentiment of the crowd.  It would be the final anthem in that building.

It was a 15-year-old boy who shot Wayne in the failed robbery attempt.  The boy had a 9-mm hand gun.  He was with a 16-year-old accomplice.  It was a tip from another teen that led the police to the suspect.  Once caught, the shooter confessed to the crime.  Messmer underwent a 10 hour operation and was in serious condition after the shooting.  Chicago Wolves spokesperson, Susan Prather, said doctors did not want to speculate on the outcome. “They have no way of telling how this will affect his voice.”  The Messmers were cautioned that it might be a year and a half before they would know how his voice would sound.

The road to recovery was filled with doubt.  Would Wayne sing again? Would he be able to even speak well?  It is impossible to imagine what goes through the mind of someone who makes his living with his voice.  He was determined to succeed.  A quick return would take a miracle.  Wayne tells the story in this brief interview:

A miracle and some luck were on Wayne’s side as he returned to his passion.  He sang at a Blackhawks game six months after he was shot.  He has now sung for 33 consecutive Chicago Cubs home openers.  Sometimes he will take harmony as his wife sings the melody for the anthem, but mostly it is Wayne at the microphone at Wrigley Field when the organ starts to play.

Although I was never in a production with Wayne, we both did shows at Theater on the Lake and I have seen Wayne perform.  We have a number of mutual friends, not just on Facebook, as a result of community theater.  I have met Wayne a few times and can say he is as nice as he seems.  It is always a delight when a good person is a success.

If you asked Wayne now why he continues to sing, he will say “because I can.”  For this veteran performer and Chicago guy with a miracle comeback on his résumé, nothing could be greater than to sing the national anthem at a World Series for the Chicago Cubs.  Yes, he has that miracle on his résumé too.