Robert Merrill was an opera baritone who felt equally comfortable on opening night at the Metropolitan Opera House or opening day at Yankee Stadium.
He was once described in Time magazine as "one of the Met's best baritones" and became equally familiar to New York Yankee fans for his season-opening performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" — a tradition that began in 1969.
In his 31 consecutive seasons with the Met, Merrill performed virtually every baritone role in the operatic repertoire.
He earned admiration for his interpretations of dozens of roles, including Escamillo in "Carmen" and Figaro in "The Barber of Seville," reportedly his favorite opera.
Merrill once said opera "is the toughest art of all."
"It's a human instrument," he said. "Your voice, so many words, so much music.... There's a lot of emotion."
Merrill was known for his velvet-smooth voice. Critics wrote that he "worked hard to polish his natural rich baritone" and that he "noticeably improved each season."
Throughout his career, Merrill sang with popular stars such as Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, appeared worldwide at music festivals and made numerous recordings. Merrill performed as a soloist with many of the world's great conductors, including Leonard Bernstein. He also appeared for several presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
Merrill made his operatic debut in 1944, singing Amonasro in "Aida" in Trenton, N.J. He signed on with the Metropolitan Opera in 1945.
Born on June 4, 1917, Merrill was the son of shoe salesman Abraham Merrill and Lillian Balaban. His mother had an operatic and concert career in Poland before her marriage and guided her son through his early training.
Merrill was first inspired by music as a teenager when he saw a Metropolitan Opera performance of "Il Trovatore." The young baritone paid for singing lessons with extra money he earned as a semipro pitcher.