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By Dawn’s Early Light: Ducks Make Wright Choice for National Anthem

by Jenelyn Russo @JenelynRusso / Special to

Her powerful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner is as recognizable as her stellar voice, and it's not unusual to hear an ovation of cheers each time the words "Dawn Wright from Tustin" are announced inside Honda Center on game nights.

In her fourth season as the permanent anthem singer for the Anaheim Ducks, Dawn Wright is as humble about being a fan favorite as she is flawless in her vocal abilities. The mere mention of those cheers being specifically for her leaves the bubbly, outgoing singer almost speechless.

"It's definitely flattering," says Wright of the warm welcome she receives from fans each night.

When it comes to singing, Wright is a seasoned veteran. She joined the choir while attending Columbus Tustin Middle School and soon was winning solo singing parts and performing in school musicals.

She continued singing during her high school years, and it was in 1994 at the age of 16 that she got her first big break - a chance to sing the national anthem at an Angels game.

At the time, Wright's mother ran a wallpaper-hanging business and one of her clients was former Angels radio announcer, the late Bob Starr. After asking Starr how her daughter might get the chance to sing at Angel Stadium, he suggested she send in a good, old-fashioned audition tape.

A longtime fan of the Halos, Wright didn't waste any time creating her submission. "I got out my boom box, plugged in the microphone, recorded myself on a cassette tape singing the anthem acapella and sent it in," says Wright.

And in no time, she was standing near home plate at The Big A, using her big voice to belt out that big song, something she still does for the Angels a few times a month each spring and summer.

In 1997, she got the chance to do the same at a Mighty Ducks game, and never having followed hockey before, Wright was introduced to what is now her favorite sport.

"I love the atmosphere and I love the culture," Wright says. "You have to watch it live and take in the sights and sounds. It's about the whole experience."

A song with a long history of amazing and moving versions found alongside flawed, overdone and even annoying performances, Wright, a true professional, keeps her approach to singing the American national anthem very deliberate.

"It's not an easy song to sing, and it's an important song," she says. "I try to keep it moving at a good pace. No one likes it if it's too slow."

Wright feels fans appreciate the fact she doesn't "mess around with the song" by adding too much of her own interpretation, citing a number of times that people have made a point of personally thanking her for her simple approach.

But when Wright sings her version, she makes one small and very memorable change.

"I think it was in 2003," recalls Wright. "I was practicing in the car while my dad drove me to Angel Stadium, and he suggested adding the modulation. I used it that day and have used it ever since."

The key change suggested by her musician father over a decade ago can be found in Wright's version at the end of the song's phrase, "Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there." It makes her performance of the anthem unmistakably identifiable and never fails to stir up the emotions of the crowd.

Having performed this song, and the Canadian national anthem, hundreds of times, Wright has a straightforward but effective approach to her vocal preparation each game night.

"I do some vocal exercises and warm-ups while I'm getting ready and driving to the arena," says Wright. "I think of each performance as my first time out there. That's how I keep my energy up. I don't take any of this for granted."

Hard-pressed to find a time when singing the national anthem didn't go well for her, Wright did recall one Ducks game last season where her microphone didn't work and her instincts took over.

"I just held up the mic and directed the crowd while they sang the anthem," says Wright. "It was actually a really cool experience."

Now a resident of Corona, Wright still has ties to Tustin, as her husband, Scott, is an officer in the Tustin Police Department. They are parents to eight-year old Emma, and their newest addition is 21-month old Abigail, whom they added to their family through adoption last December.

"I love that my kids get to grow up around this," says Wright. "It's a privilege to be able to experience this as a family."

Still hesitant to accept her status as a fan favorite, Wright has recently noticed a group of Ducks fans who like to give the singer some extra recognition by shouting out her name as she sings, "…by the dawn's early light."

Nevertheless, Wright keeps it all in perspective. Each time out, she makes sure to respect the anthem and remains grateful for every opportunity she gets to sing.

"I've really thought about it this season in particular, about how blessed I am to do this," she says. "It feels like I'm part of the organization and part of a tradition here. I'm so honored."

On the eve of the start of hockey's second season, Wright can't wait for the Ducks to begin what is hopefully a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Does she give a little extra when singing the national anthem during this time of year?

"Oh, yes. Absolutely," she says with a big smile. "The crowd is always a little more into it too. I love this time of year and I'm looking forward to it."

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