CHICAGO | Three and one-half hours before the loud tumult of another Opening Day commenced, the familiar lyrics of “by dawn’s early light” reverberated around a nearly empty U.S. Cellular Field.
And again and again. The national anthem was being tuned up by a trio of male voices linked by DNA, profession and their hyper-passion for the White Sox.
Phil, Dan and Anthony Ponce all have stumbled over on-air deliveries at their assorted news shops at this city’s TV stations. That’s part of the game of live television. "The Star Spangled Banner" was different, though.
“I had the lyrics printed up to make sure I was going to get it right,” family patriarch Phil Ponce said as he pulled out a piece of paper.
“We respect the national anthem so much. The fact the Sox have entrusted us with a small part of their Opening Day ceremonies, it’s a huge honor for us and we want to get it right.”
Practice made perfect among the pomp and pageantry of the opening ceremonies. As the Ponces stayed breathlessly on-key, a host of U.S. Navy sailors unveiled an American flag that covered almost the entire field.
The Sox love that culminated in the Ponce family performance originated with Phil Ponce, still proud of coming from East Chicago and “The Harbor.”
He cut his singing and acting teeth in student musicals like “The Music Man” and “My Fair Lady” at Bishop Noll Institute, from where he graduated in 1967.
“Sometimes I regret YouTube didn’t exist when Dad was in high school because I think a lot of those videos would be viral,” Dan Ponce said. Phil Ponce, though, is modest about his talents, calling himself a “really good church choir singer.”
Confident he could perform in public, the elder Ponce went on to Indiana University and a celebrated career in TV news that took him to CBS 2 in Chicago and now as host of “Chicago Tonight” on WTTW.
Dan Ponce worked as a news reporter at WLS-TV and now WGN-TV. In between, he dramatically advanced the family’s musical career with his a cappella Straight No Chaser group and an Atlantic Records contract. Meanwhile, Anthony Ponce has made it three Ponces reporting. He is at NBC 5 Chicago.
Dan Ponce’s music acumen made him first among equals as the family practiced. He was the director, the maestro, his arms handling the pacing.
“It’s a combination of feeling each other’s voices, and having direct eye contact,” he said. “Everyone considers me the musician of the family because of my history with Straight No Chaser. They’re equally talented in every way. The only difference is they haven’t sold music for money.”
Dan Ponce is no stranger to the national anthem, by no means an easy song to perform, given so many screw-ups by celebrities and amateurs alike at sports events. He has sung previously at U.S. Cellular Field, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
Sox marketing chief Brooks Boyer said the anthem is usually sung by a regular rotation of five performers. Exceptions are made if a national recording artist comes to town.
Or dyed-in-the-wool Sox fans like the Ponces want to sing.
“It’s a huge honor because we’ve been coming to Sox games pretty much since I can remember, since I was 5 years old,” Anthony Ponce said.
“For me, this is 29 years in the making.”