Meet Natalie Morris, the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-year anthem singer
A year ago, Toronto Maple Leafs anthem singer Natalie Morris didn’t have too much interest in performing outside of church.
“You could not have told me that I would be in this position last year… I would have laughed in your face,” Morris said in an interview with Daily Hive.
A Centennial College alumni in music who runs an annual Black History Month program out of the school, Morris currently works as a full-time healthcare worker during the week.
But on weekends, Morris is also a regular at Praise Sanctuary Church of The FirstBorn in the Steeles Avenue and Keele Street neighbourhood of Toronto, where she often leads praise and worship on Sundays.
Named Toronto’s resident anthem singer this season after the departure of Martina Ortiz-Luis, who spent six seasons with the team, Morris has been making her mark as the team’s next iconic Toronto talent.
“I just live a simple life, I’m a regular girl,” Morris said, “and then I sing for the Leafs in the evenings.”
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- Microphone malfunction: Leafs fans step up to sing American national anthem
Morris most recently went viral this week for her performance that wasn’t: when the microphone cut out during the American national anthem at a Leafs game against the Buffalo Sabres, there was a brief awkward moment. A second microphone didn’t work either, so it was left to the crowd — and a microphone-less Morris — to finish off the Star Spangled Banner, despite the game being played in Toronto.
Mic issues during the American anthem?🎤 🇺🇸
Leafs Nation has it covered 👏 pic.twitter.com/gb4ZqjHwVj
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 13, 2023
“I realized like okay, maybe we’re not going to solve this right here right now. But the crowd was already signing, and I was just like, okay, maybe let’s just sing along,” Morris said. “To have that moment, even though it wasn’t in the way that I expected, was still a beautiful thing. The fans took over and they did make what would have been an awkward situation a beautiful moment together.”
Morris said it was her sister that heard about the Leafs’ auditions on the radio and convinced her to send in her demo tape.
“My sister forced me to [send in my audition tape],” Morris laughed. “Every time that [the Leafs] emailed me, I was excited, over the moon. I was just excited the whole time because I did not expect anything more than just submitting my audition.”
After an in-person audition at Scotiabank Arena, the Leafs contacted Morris to let her know she’d got the job.
“Before, admittedly, I was not a hockey fan,” Morris said. “But now I am.”
With the set of tickets given to Morris during each home game, she’s hoping that she’ll be able to create as many Leafs fans as possible.
“I have a lot of family members that are not really into hockey, so I made it a mission to try to get more of my family and friends out to the games,” she said.
Morris said that performing for the Leafs has “surpassed” her expectations with the way she’s been treated by the organization.
“The people are amazing. They’re so humble. They’re so helpful. And they’re so kind,” she said.
But outside of dealing with the team’s employees themselves, Morris said she’s also heavily enjoyed her interactions with Leafs fans.
“They have continuously come up to me, encouraging me and just telling me to keep going and telling me that I’m doing a great job. So it really helps. I just figured sometimes you doubt yourself, and it really helps that people are out there looking at you and cheering you on and sending you positive vibes, good vibes,” Morris said. “I think everyone has a hand in my career and how it’s gone so far and where I’m at right now. And I’m grateful to God as well for every blessing and opportunity he’s given.”
Both the American and Canadian anthems have grown increasingly political in the past decade, with conversations and debates being held around their necessity at sporting events and other public formers.
Much of the dialogue about the American anthem is due to conversations around police brutality, sparked by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sitting and eventually kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Kneeling during an anthem has since become a symbol of protest worldwide.
In Canada, there was also an official change to the lyrics from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command” back in 2018.
More recently, singer Jully Black changed the lyrics to O Canada to “our home on Native land” from “our home and native land” during this year’s NBA All-Star game as a nod to Canada’s Indigenous roots.
So how does Morris feel about the anthems themselves?
“The way that I see the anthem is just a way for all Canadians to be able to see themselves in it. It’s just an acknowledging of all of [Canada’s past], and still being able to say that I’m a proud Canadian,” Morris added, referencing Canada’s ‘shadowed’ history. “If we don’t know our history, we can’t really know where we’re going.”
As for her own singing career, Morris said she’s hoping to stick with the Leafs long-term but is “waiting, willing, and available” for whatever opportunities come next.
“I’m just going with the flow, to be honest, but I do hope that [singing for the Leafs] will launch me into something unexpected. And I’m pretty much already in that space.”