Wayne Messmer Talks Music and Christmas
Vocalist Wayne Messmer is most associated with signing the national anthem for many of Chicago’s sports teams, most notably with the Chicago Cubs since 1985. However Messmer also has as passion for jazz and performing many different styles of music. He is the host of a weekly jazz radio show, which airs on 90.9FM WDCB on Sunday evenings from 7pm-8pm and he has a special holiday show coming up Sunday December 13th at 7pm at Saint Patrick's High School in the Stahl Family Theater called Christmas in Green & Gold. We talked with Wayne about how he got to where he is today in music and his Christmas show coming up this weekend. Chicago Jazz Magazine: You have been known for over 3 decades as the voice of the National Anthem for many of Chicago’s major league sports teams including a long relationship with the Chicago Blackhawks and currently the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Wolves. Not many vocalists can say they have a “steady gig” performing national anthems. Was there one performance in particular that solidified you as the first call vocalist or did it build up over time? Messmer: The opportunity to sing at professional sports events began with the Chicago Sting Soccer team in 1980 when the team was playing at Chicago Stadium and packing the house playing indoor soccer. The owner of the team Lee Stern preferred that God Bless America was sung instead of the National Anthem and so that is what I performed. I also took on the duties of the P.A. Announcer for the games and ultimately kept that role when the next outdoor season began. In 1981, the Sting captured the attention of the city by winning the Soccer Bowl ’81 to become the first champion Chicago since the 1963 Bears. MLB was also in a labor dispute and there were no games being played, so the attention was on the Sting. They also went on to win again in Soccer Bowl ’84. That exposure led to the Blackhawks inviting me to sing, a position that I held for 13 years at Chicago Stadium. The White Sox were the next to call, which led to my hiring as P.A. Announcer and National Anthem Soloist for 3 seasons. Entering the 1995 season, I began with the Chicago Cubs as P.A. Announcer and National Anthem Soloist, a relationship that still exists, although I have since relinquished the every game P.A. duties. In 1993, the business opportunity was presented to me to be involved in the ground floor development and launching of a new professional sports team, the Chicago Wolves Hockey Team. As a founding partner, I still hold the position of Executive VP with the Wolves and continue to sing the National Anthem at all home games at the Allstate Arena. Chicago Jazz Magazine: In addition to singing the national anthem many people don’t know but you are an actor, announcer, jazz vocalist, broadcaster and a motivational speaker. Before we delve into the musical aspect of your career and your upcoming Christmas show on December 13th, I think it would be interesting to hear the story of how you became a motivational speaker? Messmer: The motivational speaking is a result of surviving a random act of violence in 1994 when I was shot in the neck at close range with a 9mm handgun and was able to drive to safety and ultimately survive to speak and sing again. The complete story is chronicled in my book The Voice Of Victory. Having this miraculous signature story fall into my life, I felt compelled to tell other people about the challenges I faced in trying to comeback from this devastating incident and the power of forgiveness in one’s life. Chicago Jazz Magazine: From your recordings and performances with Judy Roberts and your radio show on WDCB 90.9 FM it is obvious you have a deep passion for jazz music. How did your passion for the music develop? Messmer: I have always loved the great singers of the ‘40’s. Bing Crosby, Buddy Clark, Dick Haymes, Perry Como, Donald Mills, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were all voices that made me listen. I learned to love their phrasing and interpretation of the lyrics, which were always treated with respect. But my ears were opened when I first heard the magic of Johnny Hartman, whose baritone spoke to me like none other had in the past. He is the sole and perhaps the (soul) influence in my learning to understand the feeling and the pulse of vocal jazz interpretation. As for my performances and recordings with Judy Roberts, I can say that there is no other pianist on earth with whom I would rather sing. As for the Wayne Messmer Radio Show (7-9pm Sunday nights on 90.9FM/WDCB.org), this is a chance to play the stuff that I love and to share it with the listeners. It is rare to have a chance to push all the buttons on the juke box for an hour… I love it! Chicago Jazz Magazine: On December 13th you will be the featured performer at the Stahl Family Theatre on the campus of Saint Patrick High School in Chicago for the Christmas in Green & Gold Holiday Show. As a vocalist what does the music of Christmas and the holidays mean to you? Messmer: Christmastime is for family and love and togetherness. The classic songs of the season are those where I feel the connection to be the strongest for me. The Christmas Song of Chicagoan Mel Torme and Robert Wells, or Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and I’ll Be Home For Christmas are all the evergreens that need to be kept alive by guys like me who love to croon. The Christmas In Green and Gold Concert at St Patrick High School on Sunday, December 13 at 7:00p.m. is an old-fashioned celebration of music that is designed to bring the audience back to a simpler time at this festive season of the year. I will be joined by some of the finest musicians that night with Bobby Schiff, piano, Stewart Miller, bass, Chuck Christiansen, drums and Ralph Wilder, sax/clarinet, in addition to the Nate Rhodes String Quartet featuring some gorgeous arrangements by Bobby Schiff . Chicago Jazz Magazine: Can you tell us about the show on December 13th? How did it come about and how did you get involved? Messmer: I have developed a nice working relationship with Danny and Marty LaBelle of T Minus 10 Productions, Inc. and they wanted to produce a Christmas show that would showcase some young performers, as well as seasoned veterans. The concept of many voices of the celebration of Christmas really appealed to me and so I gladly agreed to participate in this night of music and peace on earth. Chicago Jazz Magazine: What can the audience expect to hear you perform at the show on December 13th? Messmer: I best fit the role of the guy who captures the heart of the slightly older set, yet captures the attention of the younger crowd with the lovely songs and lyrics that still ring out with the poetry set to music. The tunes that I will be singing are the “good old good ones,” as my mentor Dick Buckley used to say. With a wonderful backing of a jazz quartet and a string quartet, I can promise a trip back to a time past with the sounds of Christmas that live on and on. Chicago Jazz Magazine: Other than the performance on Dec 13th do you have any other public performances coming up where our readers can come and experience you live? Messmer: I am always singing, speaking or acting in one place or another. The best way to check out what I am up to is at Visit WayneMessmer.com where you can have access to my calendar of events. I hope that we can get to meet at one of these occasions in the near future.