Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A tribute to Rocco Scotti, not just a great singer, but a great American

I’m baaaaak. One of these days I’ll get around to telling you where I’ve been (it was neither exciting nor fun) but right now let’s proceed with a story I was beginning to tell you before things went haywire. It goes like this: There was only one Rocco Scotti. If you have lived anywhere near a Cleveland Indians baseball game in the last half-century, you certainly knew who he was. And if you were in the vicinity of a ball game, you probably heard him singing the National Anthem. Yes, he sang “The Star Spangled Banner” that loud. And he sang it with respect. No fancy flights of awkward notes that we hear from so many would-be singers at football games — people who have no respect for either the words or the music. If you can’t sing the proper lyrics and somehow merge them in with the notes as Francis Scott Key intended them to be sung, why even sing it at all? Why not just sing “God Bless America.” Or “My Country Tis of Thee” (I don’t think that is the right name, but you know what I mean.) The National Anthem gets a lot of “interpretation” at sporting events, but the purveyors are not doing it a favor. They should learn the words and the notes or leave it alone. Rocco, who died recently at the age of 95, and I were hardly bosom buddies, but we knew each other well enough so that I could impose on his friendship a few times to sing the anthem at the annual Pearl Harbor Day remembrance at Hellriegel’s Inn in Painesville Township. Of course, he made a big hit with the veterans, who are patriotic to a man — and to a woman, too, for that matter. In those days it was my wont to take my camera with me everywhere I went. Do they still make 35 millimeter film? I don’t know, but for years I took bunches of pictures — before The Digital Revolution — and I still have most of them around someplace. Don’t ask me where, but they are not lost, they are just misplaced. Some of the ones I treasure are from Pearl Harbor Day at Hellriegel’s. Front and center in many of them are Rocco Scotti, former Browns Coach Sam Rutigliano, the late and great Harry Waterman of Mentor, and others I managed to round up for appearances before my lens. One of my encounters with Rocco was a bit weird. That is not the right word, but it will do. I was flying home from the Ft. Myers airport in Florida after a February golf trip. This was a long time ago. The flight was late at night. Rocco was seated in the row in front of me. Seated alongside him were two nuns. I do not know if he knew them or not, but he soon got to know them. Here’s why. Minutes after we took off, the pilot got on the intercom. He told us we were going to return to the airport. He didn’t say exactly why, but we (all of us on the plane) became concerned, because we felt it was unusual to land moments after we took off. As we approached the airport, every light in the area was on. Everything on the ground was lit up. The landing strip had so many lights on that it looked like New Year’s Eve. There also appeared to be a lot of fire trucks along the strip with their red lights flashing. Rocco turned to the two nuns. “Ladies,” he admonished them, “start praying.” I guess he figured that if we didn’t know what was happening, we could use all the help we could. I think he asked them especially to pray for the pilot to land us safely. Well, the rest was uneventful. Apparently some danger signals went on that alerted the pilot that there may be trouble, but there was none. It was a false alarm. We landed safely, we transferred to another plane, and got back to Cleveland a little later than we had planned. As we exited the plane in Ohio, I thanked Rocco for intervening, thanked the two nuns for their prayers, and we all were grateful for being back on terra firma, or terra cotta, or whatever we were on. Rocco had a good, long life. At 95, he probably sang the National Anthem more times than anyone in history. May he rest in peace, knowing that he was a highly respected American — as well as a great singer.



Anonymous Anonymous said...


December 6, 2015 at 6:58 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Story. Thanks !!

Always enjoyed Rocco Scotti's singing at Indians games. There will never be another one like him.

December 8, 2015 at 12:16 PM 

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