Those who knew the name Jim Cornelison stood, cheered, and were immediately distraught over what to do with their hands.
As the Chicago Blackhawks’ national anthem singer strutted his way out to the center of James Naismith Court — 2010 Stanley Cup championship ring and all —noise began to build.
Conflicted by continuing the tradition formed by one of the most storied sports franchises or respecting the silence in one of college basketball’s cathedrals a handful chose to cheer.
It didn’t drown out Cornelison’s voice, but it was noticeable.
563 miles from West Madison Street Blackhawk fans applauded their soloist as they had done countless times before.
“I’ve done a number of college games, whether it’s hockey, basketball, or football, and I always love the energy of a college crowd,” Cornelison said, “You don’t have a band at a professional venue, and that adds a lot, and you always have the traditions, and chants, things that just don’t happen in pro sports.”
Cornelison got to see one of those traditions first hand.
Where the Blackhawks look to intimidate their opponents by screaming their heads off minutes before puck drop, Jayhawkers allow the soft, eerie, hum of the Rock Chalk Chant creep into their enemies’ minds just before tip-off.
That was the final moment of silence for the night in Allen Fieldhouse — Cornelison took the floor directly after and the crowd picked up from there.
“I’ve done it enough at different places where people are quiet, but I prefer the noise,” Cornelison said of fans cheering, “It adds so much, it’s so exciting, it’s a great thing to be a part of. The crowd really gets into it, and it’s a great tradition that the Blackhawks have.”
“I’m out there with a soldiers, and vets, and the crowd just goes nuts, it’s become something really about the appreciation for our military.”
As in typical Chicago fashion the noise peaked at the “rockets red glare”, and in typical Cornelison fashion he nailed the ending forcefully changing his voice so the song ends on the same note it began with.
While the United Center will need him back Friday when the New York Rangers come to visit, Cornelison welcomes every opportunity to travel and perform — silent crowd or not.
“It’s fun getting to go to different places and break the routine.” Cornelison said, “I made my living as a professional opera singer for 12 years, I never thought that I could be employed by one team to sing the anthem, and to use that as a platform to do other things, it’s pretty unusual.”