For one of the first times since 1972, Jim Nabors will not be singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the start of the Indianapolis 500. Attempting to fill his considerably large shoes before Sunday’s race is the world famous a cappella group from Indiana University, Straight No Chaser. But Dave Roberts, a founding member of the outfit, is quick to note that he and his cohorts could never match Nabors.
“Its not going to be Jim Nabors, but nothing’s going to be Jim Nabors, other than Jim Nabors,” says Roberts. “He’s been larger than life.”
For Roberts, singing “Back Home Again” at the Indy 500 is the culmination of a lifelong fondness for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, from attending the race as a child, to selling hamburgers outside of the track to raise money for his North Central High School show choir, Counterpoint, to revisiting the event as both a college student and married adult.
“Last year, we were IMS’s guest [at the Indy 500], and I was taking my wife around and showing her,” says Roberts. “And right before the song came on, there was a young father with a 5- or 6-year-old son, and he picks him up and kind of nuzzles him close, and says, ‘Alright, son, now listen carefully, because this is your dad’s favorite part.’ And that is the mentality that we know a lot of people have. It’s an emotional moment for a lot of people, including the 10 of us.
“So I guess that we’re … not nervous, but aware that there will be a lot of scrutiny over the performance,” Roberts continues. “We’re not nervous about the large audience. We’re nervous about the history of the song and the expectations that the people of Indiana have for that moment. So we just need to go out there and do the best we can, and we know that we’re capable of it, and hopefully people will enjoy it and we’ll do Indiana proud by it.”
This will not be the first time the group performs “Back Home Again,” though. Roberts says that “when we were in college, we were invited to sing ‘Back Home in Indiana’ and the National Anthem for the Little 5 [bicycle race] in Bloomington, and at the time, we thought that was about as good as it could get.”
So what does Straight No Chaser have planned for Sunday’s performance?
“We put together the song, and it is done in kind of a traditional a cappella sense, in that we nod to the tradition of the song. There’s a few moments of homophonic movement. By that I mean we all sing the words at the same time to harmony. There are some moments where Jerome, our soloist, steps out and sings his solo. It kind of ebbs and flows. I think its a great arrangement. I get chills when I sing it, so I’m really excited to get up there on that big of a stage and perform it for everybody.”
Straight No Chaser performed “Back Home Again” before the Indianapolis 500 on May 24, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Click here for event information.