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For Clarksville Middle student, singing at 2020 Democratic National Convention was biggest stage yet

Ashwin Hazarika, 13, an eighth grader at Clarksville Middle School, performs the national anthem virtually on the first day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Aug. 17, 2020. (via YouTube/Courtesy photo)
Ashwin Hazarika, 13, an eighth grader at Clarksville Middle School, performs the national anthem virtually on the first day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Aug. 17, 2020. (via YouTube/Courtesy photo)

It took Ashwin Hazarika five or six takes to get his rendition of the national anthem perfect for the camera.

Ashwin, an eighth grader at Clarksville Middle School, spent time digging through old Super Bowl performances, studying the many versions of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ultimately, he landed on the 1992 Super Bowl performance from Whitney Houston as his inspiration, for what Ashwin has classified as the biggest stage he’s yet to grace: the Democratic National Convention.

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Last week, the 13-year-old performed the national anthem in a pre-recorded video from the back porch of his Columbia home for the first day of the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention.

The echoes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” ring through events across the country every day in the U.S., and Ashwin had sung it in public before, but this virtual stage was a new one for him.

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“The national anthem is a big thing; it symbolizes everyone in the U.S.,” Ashwin said. “I wanted to think of it like that. I’m not singing for a party.”

Ashwin said he got a call from the DNC in July asking him if he would sing at the convention. Ashwin, his mom, Anjana Bordoloi, and dad, Krishna Hazarika, think he gained recognition after singing the national anthem at a National Council of Asian Indian Associations regional meeting in February.

“He said, ‘Mom, I am an artist. I care for my country, and it’s a great platform for me to demonstrate what I can do,’ ” Bordoloi said. “I know that Ashwin has the talent because I have seen him performing on the stage.”

Ashwin has been singing since he could talk and hasn’t stopped since, he said. He’s competed in vocal competitions and practices with an eight-person rock band at Clarksville Middle. While he’s used to singing ballads, recently pop and R&B music have piqued his interest.

Music is an integral part of the Hazarika-Bordoloi household, and Ashwin’s musical roots run deep; his mom studied Hindustani music in college, the traditional classical music of the South Asian region.

“[Performing at the DNC] is a big honor for the family,” Bordoloi said. “It was a new experience for us, especially on a political platform.”

Coordinating the logistics for a national performance in the world of the coronavirus pandemic presented its own set of challenges, too.

On the day the family was set to film the performance in the backyard, rain started to move in, a hint of which can be seen in the video as the American flag the family placed in the backdrop waved as Ashwin sang.

“So many thousands of people would have been there [in person] if it was not virtual. This is a different environment for everyone,” Bordoloi said. “I wish it could have been in a stadium with thousands of people, but we all know how things are, and we all have to be safe.”

As soon as they got the news Ashwin would be performing, Bordoloi said she walked to Ashwin’s closet to see what he could wear. There in the middle schooler’s closet was the evidence of the longevity of the pandemic: Neither Bordoloi nor Ashwin had been to a mall since March, and the teen had grown since their last visit.

“If everything was open, I would have gone to the mall,” Bordoloi said. “If it was regular life, I would have gone and bought something more suitable.”

Ashwin landed on what he described as a red, white and blue ensemble — a red bow tie and matching vest shined against his white dress shirt during the 2-minute performance.

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Even though the family had seen the performance in person, they crowded onto their basement couch on the afternoon of Aug. 17 to see it again on television.

Bordoloi said it meant a lot to see Indian representation on a big stage.

“The United States is a place of opportunity, [and] Ashwin is part of this,” Bordoloi said. “We want to see more opportunities like this for the South Asian community.”

For Ashwin, it was the little things about the performance that meant the most: “I was very happy that the announcer was able to pronounce my name perfectly. No one ever says my name right.”

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