Charles Glenn on retirement, the St. Louis Blues, and African-Americans in hockey

Charles Glenn on retirement, the St. Louis Blues, and African-Americans in hockey

DOWNTOWN – Charles Glenn is standing in a shopping plaza at mid-morning when two hockey fans approach him for a “selfie.” He’s been taking a lot of those these days.

Trying to get through the crowds outside the Enterprise Center on game nights has become a near impossibility for Glenn.  It’s the result of almost two decades as the opening act for the St. Louis Blues. The featured singer, night after night, of the National Anthem.

“This has been electric,” Glenn says.  “19 years?  If you would have told me this would have happened 19 years ago I wouldn’t have believed you. Hockey?  Me?  Singing the anthem 19 years?  No.”

But this year has been different in so many ways.

The team’s story has been well documented.  They were in last place in the league in early January when players went to a bar in Philadelphia, heard the song “Gloria,” and went on a winning streak the next night.  Of course rookie goalie Jordan Binnington was also a big part of what happened.  But the day of that bar visit, something else major occurred.  Charles Glenn turned in his notice. He was retiring.

“When I gave my notice, we were in last place.  I didn’t give my notice because we were in last place.  I just gave my notice because it was time,” he said.

Time, in part, because of a battle with multiple sclerosis.  Glenn will divert much of his new free time to his Voices for the Cure campaign, searching for a cure to the disease he’s fighting.

“We’ve been doing this for five years, but we need to promote it more,” Glenn said.  “So, these Stanley Cup Finals have been a really good advertisement for it.”

Being in the Stanley Cup Final after that last-place position in January is amazing to Glenn. Especially considering the half-century of futility when it came to hockey’s ultimate prize.

“It’s been a wild ride.  January started out not so good in so many ways and it just kept getting better and better and better and now look.  It’s been beautiful.”

He’s done something a little bit different with his anthems in the Final.

“The past two games here, I just wanted to say thank you. My way of saying thank you.  And halfway through my anthem I point the mic out to the audience so they can sing.  And I just bring ’em back in.”

Bringing people in is what he hopes to see more of from the Blues.  As an African-American, he said, there were few people who looked like him in the stands when he started with the team.

“And I understand because there was nobody to connect with,” he recalled.  “There was nobody to connect with who looked like us.  And then you see Grant Fuhr.  Okay, I connect with him. Chris Stewart, oh, I connect with him.  Ryan Reaves.

“You see more of us at the games as the years go on.  And that’s because you see more African-Americans and African-Canadians playing the game of hockey.”

He hopes to see hockey continue to more aggressively court African-Americans.

“As long as the Blues reach out to the African-American community, as long as the Detroit Red Wings reach out to the African American community, so on and so forth, you will see more of us coming to the arena and playing the game.”

He said he’d seen specific work in that direction from the Blues when it comes to a more inclusive marketing strategy.

“They’ve been going all over St. Louis from Bevo Mill to Ferguson to connect with people.  Filming us.  Filming everybody in St. Louis to bring it all together.  When the ‘Blues Come Marching In.’ I will respect that. I will respect it some more if we bring some more African-Canadians and African-American players back into the team.”

Glenn will stay on as a fan, but Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final was game over for Charles Glenn.

“I’m thinking, yeah, this is my last time,” he said last week.  “My emotions?  I can’t think about that. I can’t think about that.  Because I don’t want to carry that emotion on the ice. I’ve got a job to do.”

A job, which, for the time being, will include almost unending “selfie” requests from fans.  Fans of a predominantly white sport, and an African-American singer who knew nothing of the game, brought together by the St. Louis Blues.

At Game 6 on Sunday night, Glenn wrapped up his singing work.

After putting “a little” extra into his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Glenn hugged his daughter Elizabeth, who clapped as the anthem reached its crescendo with his well-known “FREEEEEEEEEE!” and pumped her fist when her father finished his last note.

Said Glenn: “I feel no pain tonight. But ask me tomorrow.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.