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Korean-American tenor sings national anthem at NBA, earning thunderous applause

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A Korean-American tenor Wonhyeon Choi, took center stage to sing the U.S. national anthem at the Los Angeles Clippers NBA home game at Crypto.com Arena on April 4.

Choi, who portrays the lead role in the musical ‘Dosan’, which highlights the life of Korean independence activist ‘Dosan’ Ahn Chang Ho, delivered a captivating rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, earning thunderous applause from the crowd.

Tenor Wonhyeon Choi sings the U.S. national anthem during an NBA game at Crypto.com Arena on April 4. [Courtesy of LA Clippers]

This marked the first instance of a Korean-American opera singer performing the national anthem at an NBA game at Crypto.com Arena. Previously, in 2014, singer Sohyang became the first Korean to accomplish this feat.

In January, LAKMA (Los Angeles Korean American Musicians’ Association) Music Director Imsang Yoon, a professor at World Mission University, was initially contacted by the LA Clippers regarding the opening ceremony and recommended Choi for the performance.

“It was both an encouraging and challenging opportunity for me, especially at a time when I had many concerns,” expressed Choi. “Initially, I felt immense pressure, but I realized I needed to prepare diligently because it was a significant opportunity,” he added.

“The U.S. national anthem’s composition features archaic punctuations, and hitting the high notes adds to the pressure. Singing in the stadium without voice monitors made it even more challenging,” Choi noted. “However, the environment helped me concentrate on my performance, allowing me to give my best.”

The audience responded with enthusiasm, warmly embracing the performance by the Korean-American tenor.

“The Clippers mentioned they would extend another invitation next season,” Choi revealed. “Despite battling a cold on the event day, I believe I delivered a satisfactory performance considering my physical condition,” he remarked.

Choi expressed gratitude for the chance to showcase his talent as a Korean-American and to inspire aspiring young singers from the community.

“I felt immense pride when a teenage student shared that my performance ignited bigger dreams in him,” Choi shared. “Having immigrated to the U.S. six years ago with little, working odd jobs including as a restaurant server, I want to encourage Korean-American immigrants aspiring for the ‘American Dream’ that opportunities will come their way through persistent efforts and a positive mindset.”

Currently serving as the general director of Seasun, a performing arts group organizing the musical Dosan, Choi has portrayed the role of Dosan Ahn Chang Ho since 2018. Additionally, he serves as the conductor of various choirs including the LA Full Gospel Church, Young Angels Choir, Southern California Korean American Chorale, and Kyung Hee Chorale. Moreover, he hosts a program on Woori Broadcasting (AM1230).

BY SUAH JANG, HOONSIK WOO [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]