John Amirante sang the national anthem in public well north of 1,000 times, by his estimate, but his favorite was one for which he could not hear himself sing.
It was on June 14, 1994, when he belted out his trademark, fast-paced rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Madison Square Garden before the Rangers hosted the Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers won, 3-2, for their first and still only championship since 1940.
And Amirante’s warmup act remains part of that night’s lore, and part of why he widely was beloved by the team’s fans, many of whom expressed sadness via social media upon hearing the news that he had died Tuesday at age 83.
“It is with great sadness our Rangers family shares the loss of legendary anthem singer John Amirante,” the Rangers wrote in a Twitter post. “Our thoughts are with his wife Ann, his children and the entire Amirante family. We will forever remember and miss John.”
Amirante, a longtime Plainview resident, first sang the anthem for the Rangers on Nov. 2, 1980, but he had been a fan of the team since the late 1940s, around the time he started singing with the dance band at Cardinal Hayes High School in his native Bronx.
That gig led to others in the Bronx and Yonkers, and eventually led him to the sports world through his day job as a design engineer for a naval architecture firm owned by John McMullen, who also owned the Houston Astros.
McMullen got Amirante an audition to sing at Shea Stadium before an Astros-Mets game, and he landed the job in the summer of 1980.
That in turn led to a connection to Madison Square Garden officials, and in 1980-81 he performed before three Rangers and two Knicks games, soon becoming both teams’ regular anthem singer.
He later added the Yankees to his anthem rotation.
Amirante stopped working Knicks games in the mid-1990s but carried on with the Rangers, who gradually lessened his workload over the past decade.
Before Game 2 of a first-round playoff series against the Penguins in 2015, Amirante told Newsday that he had been informed it would be the last anthem of his Rangers career.
Amirante said he was upset about how the matter had been handled, but after a negative reaction from fans the Garden announced he would continue to be invited to sing on occasion.
That he did, appearing before Game 4 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Senators last May, his final playoff performance. He had been scheduled for the second home game of the second round, meaning the Rangers had to advance for him to get his chance.
“I was praying for them to beat Montreal, I’ll tell you that,” he said before Game 4. “I love this. I love the atmosphere, especially in a playoff. There’s nothing like hockey. It’s the most exciting sport there is.”
Amirante sang before four games this past season, most recently on Feb. 25, the night the Rangers honored Jean Ratelle.
What was his secret to a good performance of the anthem, a notoriously difficult song to sing?
“The problem is most people think too much about it,” he said in a 2014 interview with Newsday. “I sing it like I’m saying my prayers at night. It just comes out.”
In that 2014 interview Amirante recalled the 1994 anthem, saying, “I was on cloud nine, excited and thrilled to be there.”
But as anyone there that night could tell you, and as still can be seen and heard on YouTube, excited Rangers fans almost entirely drowned out his words.
“I couldn’t even hear myself when I was out on the ice,” he said in 2014. “It was so loud . . . My first concern was: Am I going to hear the organ?”
He did not. So, was he offended that the fans yelled over him for the biggest anthem of his career? “No, I wasn’t,” he said, laughing. “No, no, no.”
In addition to his wife, Ann, Amirante is survived by his children John and Debi. Another daughter, Janice, predeceased him.