National Anthem singer

Mishael E. Miller, the assistant pastor at A.M.E. Zion Church, has been singing the national anthem at Ravens games for the past 15 years. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / January 8, 2012)

Just before the Ravens face the Houston Texans Sunday, they will hear a familiar voice — other than John Harbaugh's, that is.

It will be the smooth, vibrant baritone of Mishael Miller, who has sung the national anthem for Ravens home games since the first one in 1996.

"It has definitely been a blessing," Miller, 41, said. "I meet people weekly who recognize me. I never thought it would have been the anthem that people would know me for, or that I would become a staple in this area as a result of singing it."

With an octave-and-a-half range, "The Star-Spangled Banner" has defeated many an amateur and professional singer. The Philadelphia-born Miller, who earned a degree in music at Morgan State University, brings solid vocal training to the assignment.

He also offers dependability. He has missed only a couple of games in 15 years, once due to a missed plane when he was overseas. Even when he has stepped aside on rare occasions for guest performers, such as country singer Martina McBride, he has been ready to help out if needed.

Miller also offers a reliably stirring, tasteful version of the anthem, game after game, which also helps explain his longevity with the Ravens.

The idea of retaining a regular soloist came with the team when it relocated from Cleveland.

"We never had a problem with the gentleman who sang for us there, so we thought having a consistent anthem singer would be wise here, too," said former Ravens president and CEO David Modell. "We found Mishael. He did a great job and he has rocked on ever since. So why change?"

That's fine with Miller, whose reputation for serving up a classy "Star-Spangled Banner" has earned him invitations to deliver it at other local sports events, including an Orioles game, and for gatherings of public officials.

"But I want people to know that I do sing more than the National Anthem," Miller said.

For one thing, he sings gospel music, a longtime passion that he gets to demonstrate weekly as assistant pastor at the Pennsylvania Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church.

"He is a great help," said the senior pastor, the Rev. Lester Agyei McCorn. "And we love his [Ravens work]. It's a blessing. It's great that the rest of the nation gets to experience what we experience every Sunday. It works out fine, especially now that we have a 10 a.m. service. He has plenty of time to get to the stadium."

On his way out the door, Miller is apt to hear encouraging words from the congregation.

"They cheer me on," he said. "They'll say, 'Reverend, go knock 'em dead, 'cause we need a win.'"

Miller's musical talent emerged at an early age. When he was in third grade, a teacher encouraged him to take a test that resulted in his transfer to a school that had an extensive music program. From there, Miller moved on to the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts in the mid-1980s (his classmates included the original members of Boyz II Men).

After hearing a performance by the famed Morgan State University Choir, Miller decided to attend that school. He arrived in 1989 to begin his studies and never left Baltimore.

Although he studied opera and classical song at Morgan, the baritone was not drawn to the art form. Gospel music was a more powerful magnet, along with the gospel itself.

"I have always been involved in the church," Miller said. "I was playing church in my living room as a kid. I would make a pulpit and an altar. Ministry is at the root of all that I do. It seems like I don't know anything else. And I've been preaching since I was 18. I was involved in youth ministry for my church in Philadelphia."

After graduating with a music degree from Morgan State in 1995, Miller was torn between continuing his training in music and entering a seminary.