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Minneapolis Air Force sergeant to perform national anthem at Final Four championship game

Then-Staff Sgt. Johnny Holliday, 610th Security Forces Squadron, plays the National Anthem during the opening ceremony at the 2014 Air Power Expo at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas.

SAMANTHA MATHISON/U.S. AIR FOCE

By RYAN FAIRCLOTH | The Pioneer Press | Published: April 6, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Tribune News Service) — Before the nation’s two best men’s college basketball teams face off at U.S. Bank Stadium in the NCAA Final Four championship Monday, an Air Force sergeant from Minneapolis will serenade the crowd with a saxophone rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In that moment, 49-year-old Johnny Holliday hopes the nearly 70,000 fans in attendance will hear the message behind the national anthem.

“It’s just about recognizing the patriotism of this country,” said Holliday, who is a technical sergeant, active guard and reserve. “My focus is on really ministering to the hearts of those people, with music.”

An accomplished jazz musician, Holliday’s instrument of choice is the trumpet, followed closely by the saxophone. The Texas native’s penchant for music was evident at a young age. He originally wanted to play the drums but was drawn to the trumpet after hearing his older brother play it.

His military career and musical talents have made him a sought-after performer.

PLAYING ON THE BIG STAGE

Holliday has played for military generals and foreign ambassadors, at Minnesota Vikings football games and Golden Gophers basketball games.

The performance on Monday will be his biggest yet. He landed the national championship gig in part because of the impression he made on members of the University of Minnesota athletics department.

“He is phenomenal to work with. … He’s going to knock it out of the park,” said Jacqui Sharpee, assistant director of marketing in the university’s athletics department. She told the NCAA that Holliday would be a good pick to play the national anthem.

When Holliday walks onto the court on Monday, he will not be alone. He will be joined by his brothers in arms, members of the 934th Security Forces Squadron in Minneapolis.

MILITARY’S MANY TALENTS ON DISPLAY

Air Force Maj. Charles Trovarello is the commander of that squadron. He said that Holliday’s performance will showcase the local presence and talent of the Air Force.

“The fact that he’s able to demonstrate that the military has a diverse set of skills is just incredible,” Trovarello said. “He’s a cop in the Air Force, but then he has this whole other talent that people probably don’t think that he has, or that we would have.”

If history repeats itself, the thousands of fans in attendance, and the millions who tune in from home, can expect an unshakable performance from Holliday.

“When I did the Vikings game, when I hit the high note and all the people were hooting and hollering … I didn’t hear any of it. I didn’t even hear the firecrackers go off. I just stay focused,” Holliday said.

“(And) to be able to have my guys join me on such a massive stage … seeing the excitement in them is just as exciting for me as playing the national anthem,” he continued. “These are the guys that my life is in their hands if something breaks loose.”

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