RIP, Robert Merrill

Opera singer and New York Yankees fixture Robert Merrill has died at the age of 87.

Merrill died Saturday at his home in suburban New York City, family friend Barry Tucker said Monday. Reference books gave conflicting ages for Merrill, 87 or 85.

Merrill performed around the country with Tucker’s father, tenor Richard Tucker, the younger man said. “My father felt that he had the greatest natural voice that America created,” he said.

Merrill, once described in Time magazine as “one of the Met’s best baritones,” became as well-known to New York Yankees fans for his season-opening rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner — a tradition that began in 1969.


Merrill’s lifelong enthusiasm for baseball led to his long tenure at Yankee Stadium, where he sang the national anthem on opening day for three decades.

Merrill, who often appeared in a pinstriped shirt and tattered Yankees necktie, performed the same duty for the Yankees during the World Series, the playoffs and at Old-timers Day.

He took the job seriously and once said he didn’t appreciate when singers tried to ad lib with “distortions.”

“When you do the anthem, there’s a legitimacy to it,” Merrill told Newsday in 2000. “I’m bothered by these different interpretations of it.”

Yankees team spokesman Howard Rubenstein called Merrill “a true inspiration for us, the ballplayers and all of our fans. … We dearly miss him.”

When I ranted about some modern “interpretations” of the National Anthem, it was with Merrill’s version in mind as the gold standard. Nobody did it better than Robert Merrill. Rest in peace.

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3 Responses to RIP, Robert Merrill

  1. William Hughes says:

    One of the items mentioned in the New York Daily News fascinated me. Robert Merrill took singing lessons with the money he earned as a semi-professional baseball player.

    The only person that was Robert Merrill’s league as a singer of a national anthem was the late Roger Doucet, who sang before Montreal Canadiens games for many years. His rendition of O, Canada is as distinct to hockey fans as Robert Merrill’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner is to baseball fans. Roger was also sang an excellent rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and his versions of many national anthems were recorded for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal (it also was recently released on CD).

    Robert Merrill will be sorely missed on Opening Day.

  2. Patrick says:

    Departing on a tangent…

    Last Friday night, my wife and I attended her high school’s homecoming game. She’s graduate of Memorial here in Houston and a former member of the band. As she was recalling her high schools years and commenting on how much it felt so familiar the band started playing.

    “Oooh” she said, “that’s our fight song.” I am a big college football fan and immediately recognized “Hail to the Victors” and told her that her fight song actually belonged to the University of Michigan.

    After the game, the band played again this time the “Alma Mater”, I was quickly informed by my bride. She seemed more than a little surprised whe I told her that the Memorial Alma Mater was a dead ringer for “O Canada”. She was a little skeptical until I sang that last line – “O Canada we stand on guard for thee, O Canada we stand on guard for thee” right along with the band.

  3. Tim says:

    It’s a sad thing, yes, but on the bright side, he managed to live a full, long life and died just in time to avoid the “horror” of watching the Sox break the curse.

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