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February 4, 2014

JHS grad sings at Super Bowl

JACKSONVILLE — As the first featured female vocal soloist of the United States Marine Band, Gunnery Sergeant Sara Dell’Omo is accustomed to public appearances.

“I've had some pretty amazing assignments, most of them around Washington, D.C., performing for ceremonies or solemn events, but I never expected to sing for anything this televised or for this large of a production,” admitted the 1997 Jacksonville High School graduate.

The gig? Performing at Sunday night's Superbowl game in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., as part of a combined military chorus, standing in as back-up to soprano Renée Fleming, who performed the National Anthem.

“My grandfather (Coach Dick Sheffield) was a really big part of the Jacksonville high school football program, and growing up in a football family, I'm sure Coach would have never thought that his granddaughter would be the one on the field in a Superbowl,” she laughed.

Her grandmother, Betty Sheffield, whose late husband coached for JISD from 1958-1970, said the family “is just so very proud of Tom and Sara” being part of Superbowl programming.

Tom Dell'Omo, Sara's husband, is a drummer with The United States Army Band, “Pershing's Own,” and was part of the corps “marching the colors,” Sara said.

“We had been waiting and anticipating” the couple's performance, Sheffield said, “and it was a bit of a downer (when she was unable to get a good view on her TV), but there were a lot of pictures on YouTube and Facebook, so it felt like we saw it. And (others) said the sound was wonderful.”

The fact that her granddaughter has made a career from singing isn't anything unusual, Sheffield added.

“She sang in our church at age 11, it was her first public appearance, and I knew she was special then,” she said.

Dell'Omo recalls her parents telling her “you were singing before you could talk.”

According to her profile on the United States Marine Band website, Dell'Omo began musical instruction on piano at age 9, followed by voice at age 16, joining the JHS choir, then under the direction of Larry Cigainero.

After graduating high school, she attended the University of North Texas in Denton and earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance in 2001. She subsequently joined the Army, where she was a member of the U.S. Army Band’s Army Chorale at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va.

After a three-year-stint, Dell'Omo joined the Marines, and became a member of “The President's Own” United States Marine Band in 2005.

Saturday's Superbowl performance was a surprise, “especially since I was supposed to be on a concert (tour) already – the conductor took me off the concert, and I said, 'We're going to the Superbowl, aren't we?'” she recalled.

That was mid-January, and during the interim, the combined chorus met twice in the nation's capitol “to learn music, then had a rehearsal in New York on Friday afternoon at the stadium to do the camera and sound,” she said.

The experience was very much a memorable one for Dell'Omo, who has sung the National Anthem at minor league baseball games around the Capitol, “but nothing could compare to the electricity in that stadium Sunday,” she said, describing a deafening roar of the crowds, combined with noise from Apache helicopters flying over and fireworks displays.

“That's what they can't capure on TV: The noice of the fans, the helicopters, the fireworks … I was completely amazed that Renée  was able to keep singing,” she said. “The excitement was just that great.”

Dell'Omo admitted that she was “glad to have that many years of experience, of standing at attention while singing the National Anthem – with that many things going on … that was probably the hardest thing, to keep focus, to not be distracted by anything.”

And, she added, “it helped to have a chorus” surrounding her.

“It was a group of 32 of us, it was nice to not do alone. We had a good group support system,” she said, adding that being on the field with her husband added to the excitement of the performance.

The couple are parents to three children, ages 7, 4 and 3, who stayed with family members back home while Mom and Dad performed at the Superbowl.

“I'm curious to see if they saw us perform, but they know that when Mommy is going to work, she's going to sing, and Daddy's going to drum,” Dell'Omo said.

 

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