NEW YORK (AP) — Acclaimed singer Robert Merrill, the opera baritone who felt equally comfortable on opening night at the Metropolitan Opera House or opening day at Yankee Stadium, has died. He was 85.
Mr. Merrill died Saturday at his home in suburban New York, family friend Barry Tucker said yesterday.
The singer, once described in Time magazine as “one of the Met’s best baritones,” became as well-known to New York Yankees fans for his season-opening rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — a tradition that began in 1969.
In his 31 consecutive seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Merrill performed virtually every baritone role in the operatic repertoire.
He earned admiration for his interpretations of dozens of roles, including Escamillo in “Carmen” and Figaro in “The Barber of Seville,” reportedly his favorite opera.
Mr. Merrill, known for a velvet-smooth voice, retired from the Met in 1976, but returned to its stage in 1983, when the company marked its centennial.
“Few leading singers have graced the company with so many performances,” Opera News said in 1996. “None have served it with more honor.”
Throughout his career, Mr. Merrill sang with popular stars, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Louis Armstrong, appeared worldwide at music festivals and made numerous recordings.
He performed as a soloist with many of the world’s great conductors, including Leonard Bernstein. He also appeared for several presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
Mr. Merrill was born June 4, 1919, the son of shoe salesman Abraham Merrill and Lillian Balaban. His mother had an operatic and concert career in Poland before her marriage and guided her son through his early musical training.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Mr. Merrill was first inspired by music as a teenager when he saw a Metropolitan Opera performance of “Il Trovatore.” The young baritone paid for singing lessons with extra money he earned as a semipro pitcher.
Mr. Merrill’s lifelong enthusiasm for baseball led to his long tenure at Yankee Stadium, where he sang the national anthem on opening day for three decades.
Mr. Merrill, who often appeared in a pinstriped shirt and tattered Yankees necktie, performed the same duty for the Yankees during the World Series, the playoffs and at Old-timers Day.