Today, while we honor those we lost on September 11, 2001, we also celebrate our American spirit. On September 12, 2001, we all forgot that we were Democrats or Republications, we just became Americans. One of the people who helped us deal with our grief and feel stronger again was “The Voice That Healed A Nation” aka. The Singing Policeman, Daniel Rodriguez. “Un-Block The Music” spoke with him the other day about his youth in Brooklyn and the path he took to not only heal America, but to realize his dream as a classical singer.
The Star Spangled Banner was never more emotional than at Yankee Stadium when Daniel sang it at an interfaith prayer service only days after the terrorist attacks that took down New York’s Twin Towers. Where did New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Cardinal Edward Egan find him? Well, it wasn’t out of nowhere. Daniel was the designated National Anthem singer for the New York City Police Department. His story as to how he became designated gave a lightness to this interview. Once again, proving music to be a healer.
Here is a snapshot of Daniel’s story. He started singing professionally at 12 years old while attending Charles O. Dewey School in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. (Ironically, my husband, Al Block, was a Physical Education teacher at Dewey when I met him. Six degrees of separation….) Anyway, Dewey’s theater coach, Elliot Dorfman went to Daniel’s elementary school to find children who had talent and might be interested in theater arts. He found Daniel. “Elliot mentored me from 12 until I was 19. I made my first recording at 16 years old, and my Carnegie Hall debut when I was 17,” Daniel said. At Elliot’s suggestion, Daniel began studying at the American Youth Repertory Company in Manhattan.
Sounds perfect right? Not so much. Daniel lost his mentor and started a family by the time he was 20 years old. “I lost everything I was working for at that point. I spent about five years trying to figure out my life. It was a dark time.” He still loved his music, but as most artists will tell you, parents worry! Daniel’s dad encouraged him to get a job with benefits so that he could raise his family. Well, Daniel became The Singing Mailman before he was The Singing Policeman!
During his time as a mailman, Daniel continued studying music with coaches such as Mignon Dunn, a mezzo-soprano from The Metropolitan Opera. That’s when he went from a baritone to a tenor, he said. Also, at that time, “I recorded a 10 song DAT tape and sent it to a cassette duplicator in Boston.” (To my younger readers, DAT tapes were short lived, but were digital magnetic audio tapes half the size of a cassette and most definitely better sounding.) “They (the duplicator) told me I needed artwork to go on the cassette package, so I etched out a marquee with the title ‘Broadway Magic.’” That not only became the title of his cassette, but of his show. “I played my show at churches and events around New York where I sold my cassette,” Daniel explained.
When Daniel took the test to become a mailman, he also took the policeman’s test (and tests for sanitation, court officer, et al). So, when his number came up on the policeman’s waiting list, he decided to take the job. “Around this time, I was working with a church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and their organist was a detective. He would always have me sing.” Daniel knew there were cadets that sang at events. So, when it was time for him to graduate, he took it upon himself to pitch his talents to the ceremonial unit. He did that without an invitation. “Cadets are not allowed on the ceremonial unit floor. I took a big chance. I could have gotten fired, but I took a shot.” Luckily it paid off. “I sang for the graduation, and became part of the ceremonial unit later on. Basically, I became the ‘go to guy’ for the National Anthem whenever they needed me.”
Flash back to that terrible day in 2001, when a Tuesday morning that started off on a beautiful note, changed life in America forever. As a policeman, “I was a block away on 9-11, watching the towers come down. We were down there 24-7 for weeks afterwards. Despite my police work, there was always an annoying sense that there was something more I could be doing; something else I could give back.”
Mayor Giuliani called Daniel which was an honor, but not a surprise. However, the Catholic boy in Daniel, was taken aback when New York’s Cardinal Edward Eagan called him too asking him to sing at Yankee Stadium days later. “Un-Block The Music” is based in New York, and I, for one, remember uncontrollable tears when hearing him sing on that day in 2001.
Since 2001, Daniel has really been an American symbol for patriotism, and it’s well-deserved and very heartwarming. I believe good things come to good people. While he is still known as The Singing Policeman, Daniel took off his uniform and took the music world by storm. In 2002, he went off to study with Placido Domingo and he started doing symphony concerts here and internationally. Today, Daniel is working on his 8th album, and guest stars on many others. He performs by himself and also with The Highland Divas. Marla Kavanaugh is Daniel’s wife. (https://unblockthemusic.blog/2019/07/30/grabbing-attention-from-jimmy-fallon-others-the-highland-divas-offer-scottish-music-with-an-american-flair/)
As for September 11, 2019, Daniel will be singing for TomorrowTogether at the Intrepid in New York City (https://www.911day.org/). This organization was started up by two friends who have been dedicated to transforming September 11th into a day of doing good. More than 12,000 volunteers will join together in 8 cities to combat hunger and support victims of Hurricane Dorian. “This year, they hope to pack 3,000,000 meals with 100,000 meals going to Hurricane Dorian Relief,” Daniel said.
As for “Un-Block The Music,” I will attend the evening performance of “Come From Away” on Broadway. If you don’t know the show’s subject, it is Operation Yellow Ribbon which was put into place by Canada to divert civilian airline flights away from U.S. targets. The aircrafts landed in Canadian provinces such as Newfoundland. The show’s story takes place here. I interviewed Larry Lelli, the show’s drummer and he shared with me stories about how this show “gives back.” The article will run later this week, and tomorrow, rest assured “Un-Block The Music” will kiss the ground of New York City and thank God I am American.
In the meantime, for a list of Daniel’s performance dates, go to: https://www.danielrodrigueztenor.com/schedule