Color of Hockey: Lightning Anthem singer lends voice to reading project
William Douglas has been writing the blog The Color of Hockey for nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today is Sonya Bryson-Kirksey, who performs the national anthem at the Tampa Bay Lightning home games. She started a children’s reading project, with videos shared online.
Sonya Bryson-Kirksey wanted to use her voice to do more than sing the national anthem at the Tampa Bay Lightning home games during the pandemic.
The 54-year-old retired Air Force technical sergeant looked back on her childhood and had an idea she hopes to inspire and comfort young children living during the COVID-19 era: reading out loud.
Bryson-Kirksey and his sister, Phillis McMiller, created the Sonni Reading Project, in which Bryson-Kirksey reads books aloud to children.
Readings are available on the project’s YouTube channel and Facebook page, as well as via a podcast on platforms such as Spotify, Google and Apple podcasts.
The books range from sports-related titles such as “The Magic Hockey Stick” and “Goodnight Hockey”, to contemporary stories like “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” and “Pandita and the Pandemic”, and all are read in a calming and deliberate tone.
Bryson-Kirksey and his sister started the project in November. It reminded them of their childhood in South Carolina when an aunt read to them when she visited them on Sundays.
“When I was little she read to me,” Bryson-Kirksey said. “She would pull me on her knees to read when my mom was doing her hair. But the thing is, you have people reading you and you have people playing. come alive for us. “
Bryson-Kirksey said she wanted to have the same impact when she started reading online to her toddler grandchildren. As the pandemic continued until the end of 2020, Bryson-Kirksey and his sister decided that instead of just reading to their family, “Why can’t we do this for the world?”
“The kids are going through so much right now, we want to be positive for them,” she said.
Bryson-Kirksey hopes the project will inspire children to grab books and read for themselves.
“There was this attack on social media and other electronic things,” she said. “I would like children all over the world to rediscover reading.”
As the reading project progresses, Bryson-Kirksey said she hopes to invite some Lightning players to become alternate readers.
“We are still in our infancy,” she said. “This is something I have on the back burner.”
Bryson-Kirksey has played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Lightning home games since 2013, but this season and 2019-20 are not like him.
She performed the anthem live for the Lightning home opener on January 13, and then the Lightning relied primarily on recorded versions afterwards.
She has performed the anthem in person six or seven times since March 13, when the Lightning began allowing up to 3,800 fans to enter Amalie Arena for games.
Bryson-Kirksey, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she was very careful when inside the arena.
“It has been a safe environment,” she said. “I had no problems. As far as my health is concerned, I need to make sure my mask is on until I sing, and then put it back on immediately after.”
In addition to wearing a mask, the pandemic brought another notable change for Bryson-Kirksey: singing the Canadian national anthem. She had only done it once in a home game because Lightning owner Jeff Vinik had said he preferred her just to sing the United States anthem because of the energy she brings to the song.
Bryson-Kirksey recorded versions of the American and Canadian anthems that were played prior to the Lightning’s “home” games in the Bubble during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
She played “O ‘Canada” at Amalie Arena once this season, for the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association, who are playing home games in Tampa this season due to the United States border being closed. and Canada due to the pandemic.
“The Canadian anthem is so melodic, it’s beautiful,” she said. “I love it.”
Bryson-Kirksey loves that the Lightning won the Stanley Cup last season and is looking forward to receiving his championship ring. She had adjusted it to fit on the middle finger of her right hand.
“It’s my microphone hand and the middle finger shows the most when I hold the microphone,” she said. “I can’t wait to wear it when I sing.”