Lucy Monroe, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” so often that Bennett Cerf once suggested she be admitted to the union as what then would have been the 49th state, is dead of cancer.
Miss Monroe, official soloist for the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and an omnipresent figure at bond rallies during World War II, was 80.
She died Tuesday at her home in New York City where she had lived nearly all her life.
A Titian-haired, handsome soprano who began her singing career in the early days of radio, Miss Monroe was the daughter of Anna Laughlin, a former Broadway stage actress and Dwight Monroe, a gem merchant.
She was one of several dozen singers regularly employed on a variety of radio programs who usually performed without credit.
During the 1930s she could be heard on three or more radio programs a week and co-starred with Frank Munn on “American Album of Familiar Music” and with Joe Cook on “Circus Night,” a variety show.
She also appeared irregularly as soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera and with opera companies in Chicago and St. Louis.
An Instant Favorite
Her initial introduction to the national anthem came at the American Legion’s convention in New York City in 1937. NBC, which broadcast “American Album,” had offered Miss Monroe as a local talent. Her vocal security amid the taxing high notes of America’s signature song made her an instant and enduring veterans’ favorite.
In 1940 she was featured in the “American Jubilee” segments of the New York World’s Fair and each evening Miss Monroe closed the show with the anthem as Eleanor Holm was doing her backstrokes at the nearby Aquacade.
It was at that fair that she first came to be known as “The Star-Spangled Banner Girl.”
By early 1942 she was singing at war bond rallies and that year conducted a community sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial which attracted 40,000 people.
Over the years she sang the anthem at every opening day for the New York Yankees and at every World Series in which that baseball team participated between 1945 and 1960.
She sang for Presidents ranging from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman to John F. Kennedy and once estimated she had sung the national anthem more than 5,000 times.
Her largest crowd, she told editor-author Cerf in 1954, was for a Fourth of July gathering at the Washington Monument.
As she sang, a crowd of 300,000 kept time by waving lighted matches and when she came to the final words of Francis Scott Key’s anthem, nearly all of them joined in.
“It was the kind of moment when you could cry with pride and joy at being an American,” she said.