North Attleborough grad performs National Anthem before thousands at Red Sox game

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Branigan Smith, a graduate of North Attleborough High School, performs the National Anthem at the May 31 Red Sox game at Fenway Park for UMass Amherst Day. Photo Credit/Jon Crispin

max.bowen@northstarreporter.com 

Standing before a crowd of 31,231 people at Fenway Park, Branigan Smith gave the performance of a lifetime.

Smith, a 2023 North Attleborough High School grad and rising sophomore at UMass Amherst, sang the National Anthem at the May 31 Red Sox game when they took on the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox won, 7-3, which Smith joked that his mother attributed to his performance. 

“I would do it again,” said Smith on June 3.

Smith was chosen to perform at the game by the UMass Amherst Alumni Association, as May 31 is also UMass Amherst Day. Smith is studying electrical engineering and classical vocal performance. UMass Amherst voice professor William Hite had recommended him to audition, and said Smith had the range to sing the National Anthem, “which isn’t easy by the way.”

“He jumped at the opportunity and the rest was up to him,” Hite wrote in an e-mail. “He’s a go-getter and a talented musician. I’m very happy that he’s a member of my studio at UMass.”

Also known as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the National Anthem was written by Francis Scott Key on Sept. 14, 1814. The song was inspired by a battle during the War of 1812 fought between Great Britain and America, which took place in Baltimore, Maryland, at Fort McHenry that Key had witnessed. 

Rachel Spates, president of the UMass Amherst Alumni Association, said the organization was proud to have Branigan representing UMass along with 2,000 UMass Amherst alumni fans.  

“This is a year of celebration,” said Spates in a statement. “Not only is the UMass Amherst Alumni Association proudly celebrating its 150th anniversary, but this is also the 10th time we have hosted an event at Fenway with our alumni.”

For weeks, Smith practiced the National Anthem again and again, opting to only make minor changes to the music and avoid being among those that go “too far” to add their unique style to the song. On the big day, he remembers it as a “very surreal” experience, and did his best not to look at the crowd as he walked onto the field.

“When I was waiting to go onto the field, I was sweating it out, doing deep breathing to calm down,” he said. “I wasn’t panicked about it, just sweating it out.”

One thing that Smith wasn’t told ahead of time was that there would be a delay of a five seconds between what he sang and what came over the loudspeakers. This he said, caused him to panic, as he had a hard time hearing himself sing. 

“That caused me to slow down,” he said. “When I got to the second half (of the song), I got more comfortable with it.”

Smith said that his rendition of the anthem was slower than some, and that a member of the Army’s color guard joked that it was the longest one they had to salute. He held onto the part of the song that goes “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” with an emphasis on “free” and “brave.”

“I was just very focused in on the best I could do to make it a good performance,” Smith said. “I worked to get some of the meaning, to get the enunciation into the words. I felt what notes to hold out…the notes that described the scene, I added more.”

And then it was over, with thunderous applause. Smith said he thanked the crowd and went back to his seat, “back to being a person,” in his words. He said that overall, he really enjoyed the experience and that it was something he hopes to do again for UMass sports games. 

“It was an overwhelmingly positive response,” Smith said. “When I went back to my seat at the bleachers, I was recognized and got lots of compliments.”