NYC Officer Daniel Rodriguez Has 'Spirit'

Daniel Rodriguez had two apparently incongruous career goals. The first was to have a job with a pension, and the second was to be a professional singer. He achieved the first in 1996, when he graduat

Daniel Rodriguez had two apparently incongruous career goals. The first was to have a job with a pension, and the second was to be a professional singer. He achieved the first in 1996, when he graduated from the New York police academy. The second was achieved through a serendipitous chain of events kicked off by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On Sept. 23, he sang the national anthem at a televised memorial service held at Yankee Stadium, putting his face and commanding tenor before millions of viewers, earning him the nickname of "the singing policeman."

"It seems like I came out of nowhere, but singing has been something I have done seriously for my entire life," says 37-year-old Rodriguez, whose first public showcase was at New York's Carnegie Recital Hall at 16. "I continued performing throughout my 20s, but after I got married and started a family, I had to get a regular job, because money really was not coming in from my singing."

Rodriguez worked for the post office, then the police department, and continued to sing publicly as often as possible. "Once I became the department's designated singer of the national anthem, the uniform really opened doors for me," says Rodriguez, who sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at numerous New York sporting events. This led to appearances with the New York Pops and at the annual Broadway on Broadway performance, held in New York's Times Square, where he befriended and made a fan of then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

After working for 10 days keeping order at the former site of the World Trade Center, Rodriguez was called by Emmy Awards musical director Tom Scott, who wanted to add some patriotic songs to the broadcast. "I had actually heard Daniel sing before a fight on HBO," recalls Scott, a multi-reed player known for his work with his contemporary jazz band, the L.A. Express. "When I heard that we were getting 'the singing policeman,' I was excited, because I already knew how good Daniel's voice is."

Although the Emmys were ultimately postponed when the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan, a rehearsal tape of Rodriguez singing "America the Beautiful" was featured prominently on Peter Jenning's ABC newscast that night, exposing Rodriguez to his largest audience to date. The following morning, Scott awoke with a plan. "Out of the blue," Scott recalls, "it hit me that I had to get Daniel a record deal and produce him."

Signing with EMI's newly reactivated Manhattan label, Rodriguez and Scott recorded Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," releasing it as a fund-raiser with monies earmarked for the Twin Towers Fund. The single includes a rarely heard verse recited by Giuliani and has sold 33,000 copies to date, according to SoundScan.

Released Feb. 12, Rodriguez's debut album, "The Spirit of America," expands upon the patriotism associated with the singer by mixing such songs as "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful" with such uplifting titles as "This Is the Moment" (from the Broadway production of "Jeckyll and Hyde") and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone."

"The Spirit of America" was recorded in the same honest, working-man manner that features prominently in Rodriguez's charm. After contracting the flu during the recording sessions, he found himself with only one day to record the majority of the album's final vocal tracks. "As a joke, someone told me that we had to wrap everything up by six o'clock," Rodriguez says, "and having never recorded anything of this magnitude before, I thought they were being serious. At 6 o'clock, I apologized to Tom, because there was still one song to go. Only then did I find out that the studio was booked until 10."

Rodriguez -- who performed the National Anthem during the extravagant opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City -- will tour this summer to promote "The Spirit of America," but not before a three-month period of voice training with one of his own favorite tenors, Placido Domingo. (Rodriguez will be on unpaid leave from the police department during his training. Such companies as Mechanical Contractors of America are sponsoring him.)

Future plans include an album of romantic songs associated with the late Italian tenor/movie star Mario Lanza. Scott says he is investigating bringing Lanza's story to Broadway, with Rodriguez in the starring role. Rodriguez will record a special for PBS March 30, with guests to include trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and violinist Vanessa Mae. A live CD, DVD, and pay-per-view special of the event are being planned.

Rodriguez does not rule out returning to active duty as a police officer. "There are no guarantees in life," he says. "If it all ended tomorrow, the ride was phenomenal, and I am grateful."

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