IU Jacobs School alum is the voice of the Chicago Blackhawks

Post by Bethany Nolan of IU Communications:

Jim Cornelison made his living as an opera singer for 12 years after completing a master’s degree in voice performance in 1992 at the IU Jacobs School of Music. Then, a chance encounter with another IU alum at the Lyric Opera of Chicago changed his life.

“This guy said, ‘Hey, do you want to audition for the Blackhawks? They’re looking for people to sing the national anthem before games,’” the tenor recalled. “So I went to the audition, got it and would do the anthem whenever the rotation and my schedule matched up, so maybe six or eight games a year. Five years ago, they approached me and asked me to take the gig full time.”

Cornelison bobblehead

Cornelison’s bobblehead.

Since then, Cornelison has sung the national anthem at innumerable home Blackhawks games in Chicago’s United Center, something he can only describe as “a powerful experience” that’s part of a huge tradition for those who attend the team’s National Hockey League competitions.

“The fans are what make it something truly unique,” he said. “They cheer from the beginning to the end, and it’s just deafening. It’s an intense emotional experience.

“I get emails from people all the time. One of my favorites was from a guy who wrote, ‘Hey Jim, I love what you do and I love the anthem. My son is in the Navy and, when I hear 20,000 people cheering the anthem, I feel like they’re cheering for him.’ I meet parents who have lost children to war, or families with injured loved ones who want to say thank you, or to tell their story. I think what we do provides a sense of meaning for people who have sacrificed so much, that what they did has meaning and value, and that people support them.”

The opportunity has also given his voice and personality a larger platform, including performances before the Bears/Packers playoff game in 2011 and the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.

“When we won the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks gave me a championship ring. And I get another one later this month. It’s this huge ring, with diamonds and rubies and emeralds. And I look at it on my finger and think, ‘Pavarotti, eat your heart out, buddy,’” he said with a chuckle. “I never in a million years thought I’d do this, but it’s just a testament to the twists and turns of life. You never know where you’ll end up, and it’s been great.”


Cornelison after the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup victory.

His voice has opened other doors for Cornelison, particularly in connection with organizations that serve active-duty service men and women, veterans and their families.

He’s worked with the USO, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Honor Flight Network and the Illinois Patriot Education Fund. He’s met a four-star U.S. Air Force general, and was named an honor squadron commander of the Band of Mid-America. He’s also connected with the World Presidents’ Organization, a global leadership organization.

“It’s one song, but it’s opened a doorway to tremendous opportunity,” Cornelison said. “I’d just started singing for the Blackhawks when this guy came up to me and asked me to meet his brother. I said sure, and we started walking over to him, and he’s telling me he was injured when he stepped on an IED in Iraq and he lost both arms and legs and is blind in one eye. And I started sweating, thinking, ‘What can I possibly say to this guy?’ When I got over there, he wanted to say thank you. And I said, ‘Don’t say thank you to me. Thank you for your service, and for your sacrifice.’ That’s what I mean by the power of this whole experience and tradition. It moves people, and really means something to them.”

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