Ever since Whitney Houston belted it out at the 1991 Super Bowl as only the “Queen of Pop” could, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been fair game for singers of all sorts to do it their way. An entire generation of Americans has grown up hearing the national anthem performed by the likes of Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton and Beyoncé, who admitted to lip-syncing her R&B rendition at President Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Among that generation are UCLA students who are selected each year to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at commencement ceremonies for UCLA’s College of Letters and Science. Up until four years ago, many of them were belting out their own version of this beloved song, to the dismay of the commencement committee of administrators, faculty and students, as well as some parents and other graduation guests, who yearned for less pop and more pomp.
Coming to the rescue was associate professor Michael Dean, chair of vocal studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and a recognized expert who has helped countless celebrities ace the national anthem at public events. The commencement committee asked Dean to help audition and prepare student singers for the big day, a duty which the opera singer embraced with the same passion he showed for his roles in “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Don Giovanni.”
“I can’t stand any performance of music that is not from the heart, that is not meaningful,” said Dean. “As a musician, that means everything to me. I want everyone to get something out of it — parents enjoying it, but especially the students performing it to experience it in a new way,” the way this 19th-century classical piece was meant to be sung.
For this year’s commencement, Dean worked with Ashley Yoon and Shannon Foley, selected from 15 seniors who auditioned last month. The two will sing the national anthem on Friday, June 14, at Pauley Pavilion during two separate commencement ceremonies for a total of 5,200 graduates. Yoon, who will receive her B.A. in history, will perform at the 2 p.m. ceremony, and Foley, who will earn a B.A. in philosophy, will sing at the 7 p.m. one. Dean also coaches the student singers who will perform UCLA’s alma mater, “Hail to the Hills of Westwood.”
Updated June 15: See how UCLA’s star-spangled singers did in these videos of their performances at commencement: Ashley Yoon; Shannon Foley. For more stories about UCLA commencement, visit the commencement news page. Follow @UCLAGraduation on Twitter.