A Good Luck Charm for Casey Stengel
If it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings; the New York Yankees incredible run of 5 consecutive world championships didn’t start until an attractive soprano named Lucy Monroe sang the National Anthem. From 1949 – 1953, it was her wont to step to the microphone and perform her polished rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” for the opening day crowd. According to The Sporting News, this annual ritual prompted manager Casey Stengel to call her his “secret weapon.” Casey always liked southpaws and Miss Monroe was another left-hander he could count on.
April 19th, 1949 marked the debut of Casey Stengel as Yankee skipper. It was also the first opener since Babe Ruth had passed away the previous August. To commemorate the occasion, his monument in center field was unveiled and officially dedicated. The versatile Miss Monroe closed the ceremony by performing a touching rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” She then sang the National Anthem before the season opener against the Washington Senators. Miss Monroe’s trained operatic voice easily handled the anthem with a fast paced cadence and smooth vocal tone.
In the New York Times, author Jonathan Schwartz later recalled her importance to the team: “Wearing a mink coat and standing near the Yankee dugout, the sound of her voice suggests the devastating Yankee pitching staff of Raschi, Reynolds and Lopat.” He further commented that her “bloodless account of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ suggested the Yankees had already won.
The busy singer was absent on opening day in 1954 due to an overseas commitment; she also missed 1955 due to a late flight connection. In each case, a championship was not in the cards for the Bombers. She returned to the stadium on opening day in 1956 and the club once again prevailed as world champs.
So important was Miss Monroe to the Yankee organization that GM George Weiss thought the team needed a back-up plan, even though Miss Monroe was scheduled to sing in person. According to The Sporting News, Weiss quizzed an assistant as to “whether he had an extra ‘Star Spangled Banner’ recording if something happened to her?” The assistant replied: “Well we got the regular recording that we use all year. “Supposing something happened to it over the winter?” insisted Weiss, who added: “We should have two recordings.”
“The Star Spangled Banner” evolved from a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. Originally titled “The Defense of Ft. McHenry,” it commemorated the retreat of British forces during the War of 1812. It was later set to an English drinking tune and became our National Anthem in 1931.
Lucy Monroe started singing the anthem, when the American Legion needed a local talent to open their 1937 New York convention. Since she was born in the city, NBC radio recommended her for the job. She went on to sing the National Anthem over a network of 500 stations on President Roosevelt’s birthday in 1938. She next headlined at the revamped 1940 New York World’s Fair, singing the National Anthem at the opening and closing ceremonies each day; this exhaustive pace earned her the title of “The Star-Spangled Soprano.”
Lucy was one of the first performers to sense the approaching world war. She gave up lucrative contracts to extensively tour the country selling war bonds, becoming RCA Victor’s Director of Patriotic Music during WWII. Patriotism ran in the family: she was a direct descendent of President James Monroe, who served and was wounded during the Revolutionary War; seven of her ancestors later fought at Bunker Hill.
An equal opportunity patriot, Lucy opened many ball games at the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. On February 23rd 1960, when Ebbets Field finally succumbed to the swing of the wrecking ball, Lucy Monroe was on the scene to perform the National Anthem. The Sporting News reported approximately 200 die-hard fans attended, to remember the glory days and witness the sad occasion. Former players Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca and Tommy Holmes were in attendance. “Lucy Monroe sang ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ as she had before so many World Series games in Brooklyn. Neither Miss Monroe nor any of the gathered musicians seemed to enjoy the proceedings.”
In later years, she happily sang the anthem at ball games and for civic groups. When “The Star-Spangled Soprano” passed away in 1987, it was estimated she had sung The National Anthem over 5,000 times during her patriotic career.
Radio Recall; The Frederick Post; The New York Times; The Sporting News; The Washington Post.