It was 1:15 at Wrigley Field, the sun was shining bright, and the bums in the bleachers were waiting for their Cubbies to take the field. Down in the Chicago batter's box, Anthem Annie was waiting, too. She stepped up to the mike, took a gulp of air and let 'er rip. The P.A. system carried her Star Spangled Banner over infield dirt, outfield grass and bleacher brick. Annie's operatic soprano drowned everything in its path, rolling in a flood of orotund vowels.
Donna Greenwald, as Anthem Annie is known back home in Columbia, Md., has been belting 'em out of ballparks since 1992. The "30ish" mother of three aims to sing her rendition in every major league stadium. Wrigley, last summer, was number 8, and after a strike-induced hiatus, she is now up to 13.
Though Greenwald is in only her fourth Banner season, her connection to song goes back at least two generations. Her grandmother, Shirley Rodman, lived next door to Al Jolson. Donna's mother, Phyllis Krasner, was a Florence Henderson clone who headlined in the University of Chicago's Faculty Wives Show. "Donna never sang much as a child," recalls Mom. "She was kind of scared to open her mouth."
Donna's early engagements were pretty much limited to warbling Ave Maria at weddings and Sunrise, Sunset at bat mitzvahs. She was playing a nun in a dinner-theater production of The Sound of Music in Burtonsville, Md., when someone suggested she sing at Baltimore's Camden Yards. How do you solve a problem like auditions? By having your husband buy you a karaoke machine and sending the Orioles a tape.
Camden Yards is only a 10-minute drive from Fort McHenry, site of the 1814 British bombardment that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our national anthem. "When I sang for the Orioles I thought, My gosh," Greenwald says, "here I am being saluted by 46,000 fans. Me, an ordinary housewife." A month later she encored at Comiskey Park in her native Chicago. Since then, Greenwald has played Toronto, New York (both parks), Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Baltimore again. In Philly she was hugged by the Phanatic, and before performing at Yankee Stadium, she got to sit in the home dugout! "There was so much spit flying around, I thought about putting on a raincoat," she says. "But I figured I'd be a man and sit back and enjoy it."
The anthem is an ungainly thing. With a melody lifted from an 18th-century beer-hall ditty, it's as hard to understand as it is to sing—not surprising considering it was written by a lawyer. The song's excruciating vocal range is 13 notes, a full octave and a fifth. Greenwald preps by sucking lemons and sipping hot water. "And I don't eat for four hours beforehand," she says. Not even a ballpark frank? "No way! It's hard enough to project as it is. I don't want my belly full of anything."
Except perhaps a little Greenwald. Donna was eight months pregnant at her SkyDome gig. "People told me they heard harmony," she says. "They wondered if it was coming from inside me." Appropriately, she gave her baby girl the middle name Dawn.
Greenwald doubts her enthusiasm for the anthem will ever flag. Nor does she worry about forgetting the lyrics, as Robert Goulet did in 1965 before the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch. She always brings a crib sheet along, but she's never had to use it. "My biggest fear is stadium-echo delays," she says. "Because you can't hear yourself, you can lose your place in the song." Unlike Roseanne's interpretation, Greenwald's has never brought red glares. "People ask me when I'm gonna spit and grab my crotch," Greenwald says. "The answer is, When hell freezes over."
When not working as a volunteer at the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore, Greenwald often practices the patriotic airs of other nations. She has O Canada down cold and is working on La Marseillaise. Soon she hopes to tackle Japan's stirring Kimigayo and Denmark's unforgettable Kong Kristian stod ved h�jen mast. "I want to be prepared for every event from the World Series to the World Cup," she says.
Encouraged by her success in baseball, Greenwald entered politics a few years back, opening a Ross Perot rally in Maryland. "I didn't vote for him, but he was nice," she says. "He gave me a big hug."