Maryland's high-pitched patriot

CATCHING UP WITH...DONNA GREENWALD

The soprano known as 'Anthem Annie' soon will have sung the national anthem in every major-league ballpark. Every note, she says, has come from the heart.

August 01, 1999|By LARRY BINGHAM | LARRY BINGHAM,SUN STAFF

Seven years after the Toronto Star dubbed her "Anthem Annie," Donna Greenwald is finally on the home stretch, three games away from having sung "The Star-Spangled Banner" in every major-league ballpark.

The Columbia homemaker left this past Tuesday for Texas Stadium in a new Dodge Caravan. Her travels had put 151,000 miles on her old van; this time, she left with power windows.

Baseball has been very, very good to Anthem Annie.

Traveling from sea to shining sea, Greenwald has gathered a collection of autographed balls, bats and photographs from some of the sport's most famous players, including the late Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. She has so many that she stores some in a vault.

She has sung at a Smithsonian Institution ceremony to retire the original Star-Spangled Banner for restoration and at last year's induction ceremony at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. She has been invited to sing at the White House sometime next year.

And her business isn't doing badly, either. She's formed a company to offer the 4-ounce frozen apple pies she sells at Camden Yards to other stadiums and even to grocery stores. One national chain has already called about the pies.

Not bad for a woman who didn't like baseball, at first.

The dawn of a career

Born in Washington, Greenwald was raised by a mother who sang professionally and trained with Hollywood celebrities Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. Young Donna was born with the gift of a soprano voice but as a girl was overweight and too embarrassed to sing in public.

She was 23 years old -- and 45 pounds lighter -- when her big sister persuaded her to sing "On The Street Where You Live," a song from "My Fair Lady," for their grandmother's 75th birthday. Later, Greenwald was playing a nun in "The Sound of Music" at a Laurel dinner theater when a fellow performer suggested she try the song that begins "Oh say can you see ..."

Her husband, Gary, an estate-planning lawyer, gave her a karaoke machine, and he was the one who dropped off a tape of Greenwald singing the anthem at then-new Camden Yards. There, on July 6, 1992, "The Anthem Lady" launched what would become her nationwide tour. "I want to teach my children to be proud of living here and to treat their country with respect," she explained to one reporter at that time.

On a recent morning, she sat in the kitchen of her two-story suburban home, surrounded by flowered wallpaper and country crafts and furniture with hearts carved into it, preparing for three weeks on the road. A bagel she brought back from Montreal (her last stop on the tour) is getting cold because the telephone continues to ring.

It's a typical morning. Her 24-year-old daughter wants to meet at Penney's and scope out a dining room suite on sale. Her 14-year-old son wants to go to the doctor. Her 5-year-old daughter -- whose middle name, Dawn, comes from "dawn's early light," wants to watch "Toy Story" on the VCR.

The phone rings again. It's a hotel chain offering her "family-friendly" suites for her coming trips to Texas and Florida. That's not so atypical, either.

When she started her quest, Greenwald paid her own way. She didn't want to rely on her husband's income, so she used her "mad money," the salary from working 24 hours a week at a health-maintenance organization. But five years into her anthem career, the company eliminated her job.

Not about to stop singing, Greenwald went the traditional American route: She set up a business and found sponsors. She began selling homemade apple pies and, at the same time, won a photography contest that caught the attention of Ritz Camera; eventually the camera company began sponsoring part of her anthem tour.

The gain isn't monetary

Greenwald doesn't get paid for singing. She gets game tickets, VIP parking and the kind of access that has put her in the New York Yankees' dugout, on the other end of a conversation with comic announcer Bob Uecker, in the parking lot close enough to Albert Belle to ask him to sign her bat. (He did -- without making any gestures.)

The tour also has taken her family across the country and left them with many insights on the state of baseball in the land of the free: Camden Yards, of course, was her favorite stop; Milwaukee was the friendliest; Shea Stadium in New York had the worst acoustics. The beer was good in Colorado; the accommodations stunk in New York; the traffic was terrible in Massachusetts. She has sung before 45,000 devoted fans in Baltimore and for only 7,000 who turned out in Montreal.

"It hasn't changed me, but it has broadened my horizons," the 43-year-old says. "I've learned about the flag's history, I've educated my children." She's built new bonds, she says, both with her country and her family.

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