Rodríguez, Daniel: 1964—
Daniel Rodríguez: 1964—: Former law enforcement officer, singer
Twelve days after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York's World Trade Center, New York City police officer Daniel Rodríguez took the stage at Yankee Stadium's mass memorial service, "Prayer for America," and sang "God Bless America." The poignancy of a uniformed officer singing this most patriotic of anthems was a salve for a nation gripped in mourning. As the Los Angeles Times described it, "Daniel Rodríguez put his arms around America and dried its tears with his voice." Over the next several months Rodríguez sang at over 100 memorial services, including those for 23 officers he had worked with. It was not easy. "Sometimes, it was all I could do to choke it down and go forward," he told Florida Today.
Rodríguez did go forward, singing at the World Series, the Winter Olympics, and the White House. He appeared on dozens of television programs, landed a record contract, and released a CD. In honoring those killed during the terrorist attacks, NYPD's "Singing Cop" had inadvertently become famous. However, he was no overnight success. As he often reminded critics who dismissed his popularity as a fad, he has been singing since he was 12 years old. "People will always know me as the singing cop, but I want them to recognize me as a singer," he told the Hispanic Magazine website. "I want them to know that I wasn't a cop who started singing; I was a singer who became a cop." And to those that imply his fame is solely the result of the September 11 tragedies, he is both reflective and blunt. "If you look at it in certain ways, it does seem illogical," he told the Bergen County, New Jersey, Record. "But out of great tragedy comes great blessings." He concluded, "I've been given the gift to sing. I sing for those who have lost loved ones. If people want to say this came from tragedy, fine." For Rodríguez, his new-found fame was a dream come true. In December of 2002, he left the police force and embarked upon a full-time singing career, telling the Los Angeles Times, "I am exactly where I always wanted to be."
Abandoned Singing Career to Support Family
Daniel Rodríguez was born in 1964 in Sunset Park, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to Puerto Rican parents. His father worked for the New York Transit Authority. "We weren't rich, but we had a sense of family," Rodríguez told HispanicOnline.com. "My father had eight brothers and sisters, my mom had ten. Holidays were great!" At family parties his father enjoyed singing, and young Rodríguez soon followed in his footsteps. As a student at Dewey Junior High School, Rodríguez chose a theater class and was soon studying with a Manhattan repertory company. In addition to performing onstage, Rodríguez learned the ins and outs of backstage production, doing everything from set design to lighting. His vocal abilities soon attracted the attention of prestigious singing coach Elliot Dorfman, who offered 12-year-old Rodríguez free lessons. Five years later Rodríguez performed at Carnegie Hall and a career in music seemed attainable. However, at age 19 he had become a husband and father. With a family to support, singing became a luxury. "I went to work," he told the Cleveland, Ohio, Plain Dealer. "I did odd jobs. I was a short-order cook." For the next several years Rodríguez didn't sing at all. It was a bleak period for a man who has repeatedly described himself in interviews as a ham.
At a Glance . . .
Born in 1964 in Brooklyn, NY; married twice; second marriage to Ginamarie; children: Jai-Lisa, Daniel Jr.
Career: New York City, postal worker, 1989-95; New York City Police Department, police officer, 1996-02; singer, 2001–.
Addresses: Home— Staten Island, New York, NY. Web-site— www.angelrecords.com.
At age 25 Rodríguez decided to give show business another go. A long time fan of Broadway music, he created and produced his own revue, Broadway Magic. "I went out and rented a hall, hired a piano player, printed up tickets, sold them, manned the door, then went onstage and sang," he told HispanicOnline. "I made $100. That proved to me I could do it." However, the money he earned that night was hardly enough to support himself, much less his children. He then undertook a disastrous stint as a cabinet maker. "They gave me a drill, a screw gun and a pencil to cover up my mistakes. I went through more pencils!," he told HispanicOnline. He next decided to follow in his father's footsteps and seek a city job. "I took the sanitation, police, post office, and court officer civil-service tests," he told the Plain Dealer. The post office was the first to hire him, and he stayed with them for six years. However, he was not satisfied. "I was always looking for excitement in my life," he told the Plain Dealer. When a spot on the police force came up in 1995, he was quick to pin on a badge.
Became New York's "Singing Cop"
Rodríguez's first stint as the "Singing Cop" was at his Police Academy graduation in March of 1996, when he sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before 2,000 policemen. He told the Digital Journal website, "it was probably what re-animated my career. I became the official National Anthem singer for the Police Department." As he moved up the police ranks from patrolman to vice officer to community relations officer, Rodríguez regularly sang at police events and benefits. He had divorced his first wife, and through a coworker had met his second wife, Ginamarie. In classic show-man fashion, he proposed to her while onstage during a Christmas benefit concert. Each year Rodríguez opened the "Broadway on Broadway" concert series in Times Square by singing the national anthem. In 2000 Rodríguez's friend, New York's then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, secured Rodríguez an audition with the Metropolitan Opera. It was disastrous. Not only was Rodríguez nervous, but just as he was about to begin his audition he was interrupted by a member of the audition panel who asked, "So what makes you think a New York City police officer can sing opera?" In recalling this frustrating incident to the Los Angeles Times, Rodríguez said, "The man didn't understand. I wasn't a cop who sang, I was a singer who became a policeman."
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Rodríguez was on the job. "I was just about two blocks away from the World Trade Center when the first plane collided with the building," he recalled to the Plain Dealer. "After the second plane hit, I was immediately assigned to City Hall." Over the next week, he joined fellow officers working at Ground Zero and also manned a temporary morgue. "It was a devastating time," he told the Plain Dealer. "Everything you've heard, it was even more horrible than that." Then on September 23, he took the stage at Yankee Stadium, and for the first time "felt that I was contributing," he told the New Bedford, Massachusetts, Standard Times. "My life took on a new dimension. I felt as though I was part of something great."
Fame came quickly for Rodríguez following the Yankee Stadium show. He appeared on major network programs including The Today Show, Good Morning America, and the Late Show with David Letterman. He sang at everything from sporting events to grand openings, including a performance at the White House. As the world embraced police officers and firemen as America's heroes, Rodríguez returned the affection with his powerful renditions of "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." The "Singing Cop" became the "The Voice that Healed the Nation" and "America's Tenor." The fact that he was a New York police officer who had lived through the terrorist attacks added immeasurable poignancy to his performances, but it was his voice that propelled him to fame.
One of the first to take note of Rodríguez's powerful singing ability was opera superstar Plácido Domingo. He invited Rodríguez to attend the prestigious Vilar/Domingo Young Artists Program at the Washington Opera, where Domingo was the artistic director. One of only 11 students chosen for the intensive voice course, Rodríguez took a leave of absence from the police force and began the program in March of 2002. For a man whose career had mostly been made up of show tunes and patriotic favorites, the switch to opera was challenging. "The most difficult thing was memorizing Italian and re-learning how to sing, almost," he told the Hispanic Magazine website. "And everyone there was a lot younger—in their 20's—with a lot more experience in opera." At 37 he was not only considerably older than the rest of the students in the program, but well past the age when operatic careers are launched. However, with typical optimism he undertook the classes and training with vigor. On whether he would continue to pursue a career in opera or return to Broadway standards, Rodríguez told the Standard Times, "I've decided that I would feel most comfortable doing both."
Launched a Full-time Singing Career
Rodríguez juggled his time at the Washington Opera with a heavy schedule of appearances at venues across the country. Soon after the terrorist attacks, Rodríguez was booked to appear on the Emmy Awards program. The show was never televised, but during rehearsals Rodríguez met jazz saxophonist and producer Tom Scott. Scott was impressed by Rodríguez and promptly became his producer. Within weeks, he helped Rodríguez land a three-album contract with Manhattan Records, a subsidiary label of EMI Records specializing in classics and jazz. Of Rodríguez, Scott told the Hispanic Magazine website, "He's a good-hearted and funny guy, and a major talent." In December of 2001 Rodríguez released a single of "God Bless America." and donated the single's estimated $50,000 in profits to the Twin Towers Fund to benefit families of uniformed officers who died in the attacks.
Rodríguez's first full-length album followed in February of 2002. The Spirit of America included patriotic classics such as "America the Beautiful," inspirational Broadway songs, and classic tear-jerkers like "Danny Boy." Of the album's release he told Texas's El Paso Times, "I'm living my lifelong dream. I'm singing songs that are both meaningful to me and that inspire others." The album also inspired a PBS production of the same name.
By the end of 2002, Rodríguez had decided to turn in his badge and pursue singing full-time. "If the signs are there, you do it," he told HispanicOnline.com. "God doesn't have to hit me with a hammer." Reportedly earning up to $30,000 for a performance, Rodríguez is enjoying his new windfall, but has said repeatedly that he sings for the love of it, not the money. "I've been rich for a long time, because I've got music at my core," he told Florida Today. "Now, I'm just along for the ride. My expectations are to sing as long as people will listen. If it means singing out of a church basement, I'll still be happy." With the 2003 release of his highly anticipated second album, From My Heart, concert bookings through 2004, and ongoing auditions for Broadway and opera, it is unlikely he will be performing in any church basement soon.
"God Bless America," (single) Angel, 2001.
The Spirit of America, Angel, 2002.
From My Heart, Manhattan, 2003.
Florida Today, October 11, 2002, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2001, p. F2; December 28, 2002, p. E6.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), September 21, 2002, p. E1.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), December 7, 2001, p. 35.
St. Petersburg Times, September 2, 2002, p. 1A.
Standard Times (New Bedford, MA), April 15, 2002, p. B1.
"Daniel Rodríguez: The Latino Voice of Patriotism," Hispanic Magazine, www.hispaniconline.com/vista/sepdaniel.htm (March 24, 2003).
"New York City's Singing Cop Becomes 'America's Tenor,'" Digital Journal, www.digitaljournal.com/news/?articleID=2979 (March 24, 2003).
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