Sunnyside native becomes national anthem singing icon in Chicago - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Sunnyside native becomes national anthem singing icon in Chicago

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CHICAGO, IL - When Jim Cornelison walks down the street in Chicago, there's a good chance he's going to be recognized after becoming a singing icon. It just so happens he calls eastern Washington home. 

Since 2008, at just about every Chicago Blackhawks home game, the anthem has been sung by one man: Jim Cornelison.

A former opera singer, Cornelison turns the United Center into the Madhouse on Madison. 

As tradition, the arena erupts at the first note, and continues cheering through the duration of the song.

''I don't think there is anything that can really prepare you for that," Cornelison said. "The crowd is incredibly loud. They cheer from beginning to end, and there are times when you cannot hear yourself.''

Now a Chicago singing icon, Cornelison actually hails from Washington state. Born in Enumclaw, he and his family moved to the quiet town of Sunnyside when he was eleven.

''We lived a couple miles outside of town," said Cornelison. "We had the cows, a couple of acres. We would go out and cut asparagus. Our school system went on an asparagus schedule every spring. So we would go cut asparagus every morning and then go to school. I worked in the fields a lot until I was 16 or 17 and could get a job.''

From the asparagus fields, Cornelison attended Yakima Valley Community College, and it was there where he began singing. After getting his masters at Indiana University, he eventually became the anthem singer at Blackhawks games.

''Doors started to open and the ceiling kept going higher and higher. No one ever said you can't do this. They kept saying you could do more.''

With his career taking off, Cornelison sings the anthem at 200 events a year. And while he says it's an honor to sing, it also holds a deeper meaning.

''The wounded veterans is really a place where my heart goes," Cornelison explained. "Both of my parents are World War II vets. One of the first emails I got from a dad said, 'Dear Jim, thank you so much for what you do. My son is in the Navy. Every time I come to the United Center, I feel like they're cheering for him.'''

Cornelison says his career has taken a path he never saw. But the Sunnyside native has loved every second of it.

''There's no way to map out my life. It's been serendipitous, all the things that have happened. It's all good, fun stuff."