Workers Sing National Anthem in UAW-FCA Video
Jan 24, 2017
By Ron Russell
|UAW-FCA workers shine in new video.|
When a new National Anthem video debuted this week at the UAW-Chrysler Benefits Conference in Palm Springs, Calif., it was a proud moment for delegates but even more so for six UAW members 2,000 miles away who made it possible.
They sang “The Star Spangled Banner” in an inspirational, a cappella-style, marking the first time a UAW-Chrysler training conference opened with a video that featured voices from the shop floor to honor America.
Achieving this milestone was a labor of love for the talented six-member ensemble, created for this occasion and called “The Warren Crew.” In a span of two weeks, they conceived their own rendition of the Anthem, rehearsed it on two occasions and recorded it during a 90-minute session at Isolation Studios in Detroit.
Four of the performers are Local 140 members from Warren (Mich.) Truck Assembly: sopranos Valerie Littles and Jerrica Brown, and tenors Deandre Hagar and Marcus Beeks.
They volunteered their time to work on the project. All are production operators with no formal musical training, but tons of talent they’ve honed through dedication, experience and high expectations.
“I come from a family of musicians – I’ve been singing since I was 6. This is something that just comes naturally for me,” said Hagar, who auditioned for American Idol and The Voice, and has sung in his church choir.
“I feel honored and proud to be part of singing the National Anthem, and representing the UAW and Chrysler in this video.”
The Warren Truck workers are joined in the video by altos Frenchie Rippie-Stotts and Tiffani Goodman, staffers at the UAW-Chrysler World Class Manufacturing Academy (WCMA) in Warren.
The one-minute, 30-second video was produced, directed and shot by fellow WCMA staff member General Holiefield, Jr., an experienced videographer.
Pat Byers, an Assistant Director of the UAW’s Chrysler Department, provided the impetus behind the new video. He felt replacing the old National Anthem video used at training conferences with one featuring UAW-FCA employees was more fitting and long overdue.
And he wanted to have it ready in time for the Benefits Conference, which is being held Jan. 22-27 in Palm Springs.
“Since ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ helps to set the tone for our conferences, we should have a video representing UAW-FCA that we can call our own, because it reflects our values and is performed by our own people,” Byers said.
“We have many creative, musically-talented members with the ability to do a great job on the Anthem. Our new video proves the point – it turned out to be awesome.”
Shortly before Christmas, Byers assigned Holiefield to produce the new video. Holiefield turned to Rippie-Stotts, an accomplished singer and choir director at Greater Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, to help organize the project.
Until recently a WCM Quality Joint Lead at Warren Truck Assembly, she recruited Littles, Brown, Hagar and Beeks to form the ensemble along with herself and Goodman.
After that, things happened fast. The Warren Crew began working on the Anthem on Dec. 23 in the WCMA auditorium, collaborating on a contemporary arrangement that features a smooth blend of harmonizing and singing in unison.
In less than an hour, high fives were exchanged once they settled on their interpretation of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Everyone was on board but agreed that fine turning would be needed before going to the recording studio.
“We’ll keep going back to the top until we get it right,” Rippie-Stotts, who led the group, said at the end of the first rehearsal.
She was striving for perfection because the project was “like a dream come true” for her. “I’ve always wanted to sing the National Anthem on a big stage,” she said. “It’s about the land of the free and the home of the brave – it’s about who we are as Americans.”
Following the Christmas holiday, on Jan. 6, Warren Crew members returned to the WCMA for another brief rehearsal before heading for Isolation Studios on Detroit’s northeast side. They quickly adapted to the studio setting, recording five takes of the Anthem before choosing the last one for the video.
A week later, on a frigid Friday the 13th, the video shoot took place under Holiefield’s direction on a wind-swept knoll next to the WCMA parking lot.
The supporting cast consisted of WCMA staffers Molly Henry, Greg Marquardt, Leah Roveroni and Tammy Burnett, who stood at attention in the background with two American flags. WCMA’s Rodney Drewery also assisted in the shoot.
Four Jeep Wranglers were strategically parked around the set, helping to brand the video with FCA US products and invoking Jeep’s image as an iconic American military vehicle.
ACE Engineering, a Jeep aftermarket manufacturer located next door to the WCMA, donated three customized Wranglers for the shoot.
“Creating a National Anthem video for the UAW and Chrysler is a pretty cool project,” said ACE Marketing Director Nick Ellis. “Jeep has a legendary heritage of helping to defend our democracy.
“Any association of Jeeps with the Anthem is a perfect fit – one that makes you feel proud to be an American.”
Photos by Jonathan Powell, Rodney Drewery and General Holiefield, Jr.