Rene Rancourt: Boston Bruins’ crooner started here

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As a kid, Rancourt washed his neighbor’s windows here in return for listening to her opera records.

He was singing opera on the radio in 1969 when Fenway Park’s organist tuned in. He asked Rancourt to sing the national anthem on the Boston Red Sox’s opening day. That led to a gig with the Boston Bruins, 35 years and counting.

“It’s so much luck,” Rancourt said of his long career.

Now Rancourt, 71, calls five tuxedos his work clothes. He moonlights as a “wedding crasher,” hired to surprise guests and sing the national anthem as the hockey guy from TV.

“I lived in Lewiston until I went to college,” he said from his home in Natick, Mass. “Unfortunately, I never came back. Nothing personal.”

Monday night he’ll sing the American and Canadian national anthems in advance of game 3 in the Bruins-Vancouver best of seven series for hockey’s Stanley Cup.

When he graduated from Lewiston High School in 1959, Rancourt was already singing the national anthem at local hockey games and boxing matches. Senior year, Eleanor McCue, his history teacher and drama coach, asked Rancourt where he saw himself going off to school.

He told her: “The College of the U.S. Army or Factory Work.” She prodded, if he went to college, where would it be?

“I thought of the biggest college I could think of and said, ‘Boston University,’” Rancourt said.

McCue arranged a singing audition at BU. That landed a partial scholarship.

“The rest is history, as they say. I forever was in her debt because of that,” he said.

Rancourt figures he’s sung the national anthem before at least 1,800 Bruins games. He makes occasional appearances in front of the New England Patriots, Boston Celtics and Red Sox, too.

“It’s a great thrill at Gillette Stadium,” he said. “60,000 people, oh my God, it’s a huge ego thing.”

He considers himself lucky to be a regular for the Bruins. Other Boston teams don’t typically show their pre-game anthems on TV. Rancourt could be singing in relative obscurity.

Come game day, he drinks tea with honey and slowly warms up his vocals. Rancourt arrives to the ice three hours early. He’s gotten stuck in traffic before and once had to hitchhike in after engine trouble — no way he’s cutting it that close again.

After a performance he’ll watch a bit of the game then go home to finish watching it on TV with his wife, Maria, also a singer.

In the 1960s when Rancourt was drafted into the Army for the Vietnam War, his voice, he said, kept him out of battle.

“I was about to be sent to Vietnam when I entered a singing contest,” Rancourt said. He won. The prize? A spot in a GI traveling show. “I never had to leave the states. You want to talk about luck.”

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