The 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 will kick off with the traditional performance of "Back Home Again in Indiana" following the National Anthem. This year, the song will be performed by Jim Cornelison, who also performs the national anthem for the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks. This is Cornelison's fifth consecutive year performing the song. The song was famously performed by the late Jim Nabors almost every year between 1972 and 2014.
Cornelison, 56, is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University and Indiana University. He moved to Chicago in 1995 and has been singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Blackhawks games since 1996. He became the team's full-time anthem singer in 2007. He also sang the national anthem before several important Chicago Bears home games, including the 2011 season opener on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Cornelison was first picked to sing "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the Indy 500 in 2017. On May 28, Indianapolis Motor Speedway confirmed he would be performing the song again. In a 2018 interview with the IndyStar, Cornelison said it was a "real honor and privilege" to sing "iconic songs" that mean so much to people in the stands.
"Knowing the words and singing the notes is the basic level of what's expected from you," the singer explained. "I'm trying to find something a little deeper … to engage and connect with them. If you do that, then you've reached a soft place in their heart. You've reached a place where they've opened themselves to you. And that in itself is a privileged place to be in other peoples' lives."
This year marks the 75th anniversary of "Back Home Again in Indiana" being performed just before the start of the Indy 500. The tradition started in 1946 when James Melton sang the song. Nabors became the singer most closely associated with the tradition, even though he was an Alabama native. He first performed the song in 1972 because of a misunderstanding. He was attending the race that year as the guest of a Las Vegas casino operator, and the speedway owner, Tony Hulman, recognized Nabors. The actor was invited to sing the song, which he was not familiar with, and only had 20 minutes to prepare. He still pulled it off and continued performing it almost every year until 2014. Nabors died in November 2017 at 87.
"Back Home Again in Indiana" was written by James F. Hanley and Ballard MacDonald, and first published in 1917. It was first performed at the Indy 500 in 1919, possibly by Purdue University's band, after the race. By 1946, the song became an established part of the Indy 500 spectacle. Aside from Nabors, other singers included Ed Ames and Mel Torme. Dinah Shore remains the only woman to sing the song before the race.p