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Gospel Group Firm Soundation Enriches Anthem at Ducks Home Playoff Games

The group has accompanied singer Dawn Wright at Honda Center the last two postseasons

by Jenelyn Russo /

When it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, everything is a little more intense. Every shot on goal, every possession, every faceoff carries more emotion during a game in late April and May than it does in early November.

The same could be said about the in-game experience. For the last two playoff seasons, Ducks fans have been treated to some emotional and passionate anthem renditions fitting of hockey's second season, as the gospel singing group Firm Soundation has joined Ducks anthem singer Dawn Wright for the singing of the American national anthem.

Formed in 2000 by group director Ray Sidney, Firm Soundation's members developed an early love for music by way of singing in church choirs. Their group name is derived from the idea of a "firm foundation," taken from biblical scriptures, a concept which also inspired their group motto, "One Band, One Firm Sound."

Their performance roots are in Sunday Gospel Brunches, getting their start in 2001 at BB King's Blues Club's former location in Universal City and now performing weekly at the House of Blues locations in Hollywood, Anaheim, San Diego and Las Vegas. They use their inspirational music to share the gospel, or good news, of peace, joy and love.

"We don't just sing for the love of singing," Sidney said. "We sing because we love the Lord."

The group has also shared the stage with singing greats such as Stevie Wonder, Keith Richards and Norah Jones, just to name a few. Additionally, Firm Soundation has traveled to Europe where they've shared their music and message with the people of Slovenia and Serbia.

Looking to expand their portfolio, Firm Soundation received an offer a few years ago to perform the national anthem at a San Diego Chargers game. The opportunity prompted Sidney to explore other performance options related to sports, and he had just the idea.

As a former principal at Watts Christian School, Sidney had crossed paths with Ducks owner Susan Samueli on a few occasions, as the Samueli Foundation was a supporter of the school. Sidney already had exposure to hockey, having watched Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and Marty McSorley of the early 1990s Los Angeles Kings at The Forum in Inglewood. So he approached the Ducks about performing the anthem at Honda Center.

When Anaheim Ducks Director of Production and Entertainment Rich Cooley received Firm Soundation's recorded submission of their anthem rendition from the Chargers game, he didn't hesitate to bring the group on board.

"We knew we wanted to utilize them, but including them needed to mean something," Cooley said. "It needed to be a part of something bigger than just a one-time performance."

With that approach in mind, having Firm Soundation join Wright during the playoffs to sing the national anthem made perfect sense.

Cooley asked Sidney and his group to develop an arrangement of the anthem that would blend around Wright's already recognizable version. They went back and forth with different iterations until Cooley and his team felt the sound was right.

They then met up with Wright at the House of Blues in Anaheim, where she and Firm Soundation sang the combined version together for the first time. This new rendition needed to compliment and support Wright's vocal skill and power, especially at the point in the song where she inserts her well-known modulation. They ran through the anthem and knew they had something special. And working with Wright was seamless.

"Dawn is truly blessed with a gift in her voice," Sidney said. "It was an easy fit and an easy connection with her."

Sidney explained that not all singing talents automatically sound right with each other. For singers to be able to blend, it requires the intangibles, the part of vocal performance that can neither be predicted nor planned. But when it works, the result can be extraordinary.

"It's about the sound," Sidney said. "We were able to blend with each other, not just our voices, but our spirits."

When Firm Soundation took their spots on the Honda Center ice alongside Wright at Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, their stirring anthem performance brought that extra level of intensity and emotion that only the playoffs can provide. The addition of their voices to the playoff experience was so well received that the gospel singing group is back again for this year's Ducks playoff run. They're performing, in Cooley's opinion, one of the best national anthem renditions out there.

"I can tell by watching the fans that they're not just going through the motions as they might during a regular singing of the anthem," Cooley said. "They are engaged, paying attention, looking down at Dawn and the choir. And turning to their neighbors as if to say, 'Wow.'"

The fan response has indeed been overwhelmingly positive, as a steady stream of high-fives and compliments follow Firm Soundation as they make their way through the arena each playoff home game. The group has struck a chord with the Ducks faithful. But it is they who feel rewarded.

"We are truly honored to be here," Sidney said. "We're so grateful for this opportunity."

Firm Soundation's voices are also being used to help celebrate when the Ducks score, as the singers have been joining the jazz band Bear Brass inside the Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Club for live versions of the team's goal song - "Bro Hymn" by Pennywise.

The members of Firm Soundation consider each other family, and they are, both figuratively and literally. Sidney is joined by his wife, Althea, his sister, Susan Massengale, his cousin, Danisha Johnson, and his niece, Maree Reed, as well as singers Sandra Adams, Renaissance Austin, Prez Blackmon II, Candace Harrell, Ivan Hicks and Alexander Taylor.

And while Sidney admits not all the group members came into this with the hockey background he did, the experience has definitely brought some new fans into the fold. So for as long as the Ducks keep up their winning ways this spring, Firm Soundation will be there, hitting all the right notes.

"It's great to be able to be a part of something that can bring people together for some good. Sports can do that," Sidney said. "We've been treated like family here, from the beginning. And we love it."

Video: Firm Soundation adds a new sound to national anthem

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