Jessie Reyez kneels while performing the U.S. national anthem before an NBA playoff game Monday. (Adrian Vieni / Mad Ruk Entertainment)
The story behind her performance from the top of the CN Tower
Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a difficult proposition at best. The melody is complex, it’s a challenge to hit the high notes, and the lyrics (“O’er the ramparts?”) seem to be from another language. Unless you’re, say, Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, most just get by.
Now imagine trying to pull that feat off from atop the tallest tower in the Western Hemisphere, singing both the American and Canadian national anthems a cappella for a global audience before the first game of the Toronto Raptors-Brooklyn Nets series in the 2020 NBA playoffs.
On Monday, Grammy-nominated singer Jessie Reyez nailed it in thrilling fashion from the top of Toronto’s CN Tower, with nothing but a harness to keep her from plunging 1,815 feet. (Just the week before, the Toronto native performed “Before Love Came to Kill Us” on “The Tonight Show” and recently made a cameo on the song “Scar” from Beyoncé’s new “Black Is King” visual album.)
VenuesNow caught up with Reyez’s managers Mauricio Ruiz and Byron Wilson to find how it happened.
So that was spectacular. How the heck was it conceived?
Mauricio Ruiz: I was watching the NBA’s first game in the (quarantine) bubble and noticed that the anthems were prerecorded. At that moment I thought to myself, “It would be epic if Jessie sang the national anthem on top of the CN Tower. I spoke to Jessie and Byron about it and two weeks later she was up there.
Byron Wilson: I remember Ruiz texting me and saying “What if Jessie sung the national anthem on top of the CN Tower?” We’ve respectfully passed on singing the anthem a few times in the past, but this was a no-brainer if we could pull it off.
Who was the team behind it?
Ruiz: The creative agency behind putting the video production and activation/experience of it all was Mad Ruk Entertainment. We had big help from Adam Burchill from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (Toronto Raptors), who put us in touch with the good folks of the CN Tower.
Were you all up there?
Ruiz: For safety reasons, the only people allowed up there on CN Tower EdgeWalk were Jessie; the director of photography, Adrian Vieni; and the two safety staff members of EdgeWalk as guides for both Jessie and Adrian.
Wilson: I was the farthest away from the tower in Vernon (British Columbia) with extreme FOMO.
What were the challenges of the logistics of being a million miles up in the sky?
Ruiz: Don’t know where to start. We had 13 days to pull this off. Every step of the way a new challenge presented itself all the way up the moment we got up and shot. Thankfully there was a superstar team ready to meet every challenge every step of the way.
How were safety concerns mitigated?
Ruiz: CN Tower has a highly experienced team who do this on a regular basis as an attraction to the tower. They made sure we were well taken care of and what we could and couldn’t do.
Wilson: Hats off to the CN Tower. They really prepped everyone for what to expect ahead of time so the production team could come prepared.
Those two national anthems are tough to nail in the best circumstances, yet Jessie did it flawlessly. How much time did she spend rehearsing and with whom and how?
Ruiz: I told her July 31st. We shot Aug. 13th. Every day leading up the shoot.
Wilson: Jessie takes vocal performances very seriously and won’t sleep until she feels like she’s got it.
Did she rehearse on the tower?
Ruiz: Yes. On the day.
For the U.S. anthem, she kneeled and wore a Breonna Taylor mask. How did you or she come to that decision?
Ruiz: We were all kind of thinking the same thing, but it was 100% Byron, he was the one who vocalized it to me. A day later, without prompting them, I heard from the Raptors organization that the players themselves were wondering if Jessie would take a knee in solidarity with them. It was a no-brainer to do it. Logistically, we just had to make sure she could do it. When we got there on the day, we confirmed the cable had enough give when she was up there and she pulled it off.
Wilson: With the players making the decision to kneel and show solidarity across the whole league, it just seemed like the obvious move to do the same. As Ruiz said, it was a no-brainer and we were blessed that logistically Jessie was able to do so.