William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles Arlette, who has been the national anthem singer for the New Jersey Devils for more than 20 years.
Lou Lamoriello knows a thing or two about hockey talent. He’s apparently a pretty good musical talent scout, too.
The then-president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils was walking down Second Avenue in Manhattan in 1998 when he was drawn into a restaurant where he discovered Arlette, a Trinidad-born singer who was performing in perfect Italian.
“The doors were open [to] the restaurant and I heard this beautiful voice,” said Lamoriello, now the general manager of the New York Islanders. “I decided to go in just to listen to her. And then she came over to say hello, and that’s history. I said, ‘Would you like to sing the national anthem at a game?’ She said, ‘I’d love to.'”
More than two decades later, Arlette is still performing as the popular official national anthem singer for the Devils. She is among the NHL’s longest-tenured anthem singers, belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner” for New Jersey through its Stanley Cup championship seasons in 1999-00 and 2002-03 at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, through the Devils’ move to Prudential Center in Newark.
In that span, Arlette, whose full name is Arlette Roxburgh, has morphed from a hockey novice who “knew less than zero” about the game into a true aficionado.
“I don’t know if I can do commentary like (former NHL goalie and Devils radio analyst) Chico Resch or (Devils play-by-play announcer) Steve Cangialosi,” she said. “But I can definitely appreciate when a power play is great, I can appreciate the intricacies behind the lines, putting the right people together and how putting the right people together makes magic and chemistry.”
She also has developed a fondness for the Devils players and staff, past and present. She calls Martin Brodeur, the Hockey Hall of Fame goalie and New Jersey’s executive vice president and adviser, “My crush for 20 years.” Lamoriello is simply “Uncle Lou.”
Arlette loves the game so much, she has been performing the national anthem live at Prudential Center this season, when some singers for other teams have been performing remotely or producing pre-recorded renditions of the U.S. and Canadian anthems due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
“There are no fans so it’s definitely different and it makes me sad, I’ll be honest,” she said. “I feel like I’m part of a family, and I miss my family. But I’m glad we’re having at least some form of hockey because I love the sport. I’m just so excited that it’s back again. We, of course, would all love to be in the arena, but we’ll take this for now.”
Lamoriello said Arlette performing the national anthem in person “says a lot about her and the respect that the organization has for her and the respect that she has for the organization to bring something special during this period of time when there are a lot of things you cannot do.”
Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a sporting event is tricky business even under normal circumstances. The song, originally a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 and later set to music, demands a wide octave range, music experts say.
And Arlette has about 90 seconds to perform the song to fit into the running time of locally or nationally televised games.
But she said the vocal highs and lows aren’t a problem for her and she’s able to perform the song in the time allotted by delivering a straight-forward rendition.
“I don’t do a whole bunch of nuances, a whole bunch of fancy stuff,” she said. “It’s not about me, it’s not about how great Arlette can vocalize. It’s really about, ‘Hey guys, let’s all get together in this moment and appreciate being American and the blessing that it is to be here as Americans and enjoying this sport in a free country.’ “
Arlette arrived in the United States from Trinidad in 1992 to study. She attended Long Island University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
But the road to a career in science or pharmacology took a detour when she became the singer in an Italian wedding band to help earn money while at school. She developed a love for Italian — she went on to earn a degree in it from the College of Staten Island — and met her now ex-husband, Luigi Scapino.
Scapino was musically accompanying Arlette when Lamoriello first heard her sing in Manhattan. The couple initially didn’t have a full idea of who Lamoriello was when he first asked Arlette to perform the anthem at a game.
“He says, ‘Hey, Arlette, I’m kind of like associated with this hockey team,’ real casual like that,” she said. “He sends a limo for us, and we go to the arena and I just see everyone is bowing down to Uncle Lou. I’m, like, ‘Wait, what’s going on here?’ I didn’t know he was the president and GM and big in the whole thing.”
Arlette and “Uncle Lou” have retained a mutual admiration society even after Lamoriello left New Jersey to become general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015.
He returned to the New York metropolitan area to become the Islanders president of hockey operations on May 22, 2018 and was named general manager almost two weeks later.
“We played [in New Jersey] a week or so ago and I couldn’t see Arlette because of all the (coronavirus) protocols,” Lamoriello said. “But I saw her in the corner there and I just smiled when I saw her standing there. She’s an icon there with New Jersey.”