She can sing, dance, act, throw heavy track implements, shoot baskets, box out, and earn All-American honors in the classroom and on the field. Plus, she and the Northern State Pep Band have turned the national anthem before the Wolves’ home basketball games into an event that is worth the price of a ticket.
The so-called “girl who sings the national anthem at Northern games” is Yvonne Freese, a fifth-year senior from Lanesboro, Minn. A music major at NSU who will graduate in May 2014, Freese played basketball for four seasons and earned All-American honors twice in track and field as a thrower.
The multi-talented performer has sung the national anthem before Northern State men’s and women’s basketball home games for the last four seasons. Freese is at times joined by the NSU Pep Band during her rendition of the nation’s song. It started out as a one-time thing.
“My freshman year before a preseason game, I was warming up and one of the coaches came up and asked, ‘Can you sing the national anthem?’ I was nervous and was running through it in my head when I was warming up,” said Freese. “They kept asking me to do it, and after about six games, they stopped asking and assumed I was going to sing.”
Eventually the NSU Pep Band started providing backup music for Freese’s anthem singing whenever the band was in attendance at games. Freese enjoys singing the anthem with or without accompaniment.
“I like both a cappella and with the pep band,” she said. “It depends on my mood. Dr. (Grant) Manhart (NSU music professor) came to me and said, ‘It would be really cool if we played behind you.’ I said, ‘OK.’ I never really actually got to rehearse it with the band until we did it at a game.”
Freese was first introduced to singing the national anthem at a basketball game in her hometown, when the expected singer was unable to perform.
“The first time was actually by surprise,” she said. “When I was in fifth grade, a girl who was four years older got strep throat and lost her voice that day. She didn’t find a replacement. We went to the same church, so she asked me to sing it right before the game.”
In the hundreds of times Freese has sung the song since fifth grade, she has never forgotten the words or stumbled over the melody, but like an athlete before game time, she still gets nervous.
“I always get pretty nervous. I put pressure on myself to do well. The first time I sang at the state basketball tournament, I was extremely nervous. I didn’t want to forget the words, so I used a card with the words on it. I took a little card and held it. I didn’t look at it, but I held it. It gave me confidence,” she said.
Freese takes her responsibility of singing the national anthem very seriously, because of what the song means to this country, especially now with American soldiers serving in the armed services outside our borders.
“A couple of things make the song hard,” said Freese. “Almost everybody knows the words and melody. The national anthem is very important. People can tell if you are just singing a song or singing with emotion behind it. Nowadays, the national anthem is important and meaningful, because we have men and women overseas. They aren’t lucky enough to be at home, so the song is for all those people. It has so much history behind it. It is very important to do it with a lot of emotion and understanding what you are singing about.”
Freese did not have much in the way of formal training before attending Northern.
“My mom’s side of the family sang a lot of gospel and folk songs for fun, but not seriously,” said Freese, who has appeared in approximately 15 musicals locally in the last four years. “I’ve had vocal lessons at Northern. I have tried a variety of styles. I like a wide variety and knowing how to use your instrument.”
The performers who sing the national anthem at Super Bowl football games do not rate high with Freese. In general, she does not like them.
“I always get weirded out by how they do that,” she said. “They are always trying to make it a show piece and add things to it. It needs to be sung pretty raw and simple and genuine. It’s not something where you should be going, ‘Look at me and what I can do.’ It’s a tribute to our country.”
Although Freese’s four years of basketball eligibility have been used up, Northern fans will be pleased to learn that they have probably not heard the last of her singing the national anthem before games.
“At the end of last year, they asked me to continue, so I hope they don’t change their minds,” said Freese. “The Barnett Center is one of my favorite places to sing the national anthem. I feel the community support in there. It’s so full of people and a lot of them have an understanding and pride for our country. It’s a feeling I’ll miss when I’m gone.”
Freese is currently attending as many open auditions for shows as she can and hoping for the best. Northern State fans already know she has a powerful voice and she is a local American singing idol.