Charles Prevost-Linton sings the national anthem at the Bell Centre.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette
MONTREAL — When the Canadiens hit the ice for their warm-up at the Bell Centre, Charles Prévost Linton is also preparing for the start of the game.
Except in his case, it’s for one shift.
Prévost Linton starts warming up his baritone voice as he drives to the Bell Centre, and continues the vocal exercises in his small loge at the arena.
Singing O Canada and the Star-Spangled Banner to 21,273 people at the Bell Centre might seem like old hat if you’ve performed them as often as Prévost Linton has as the Canadiens’ anthem singer.
But Prévost Linton says it’s fun because in many ways it’s a challenge.
“Once you’ve sung a song 3, 400 times it’s always a challenge to sing it again and make it live, and make it real, and try to get it across,” he said last Saturday after singing both anthems before the Canadiens’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
But it’s great material — they’re great songs, he added.
“And it’s an incredibly privileged position to be a Montrealer and to be singing the national anthem for the Canadiens de Montréal at the Bell Centre. It’s like a unique job. Every big city with a hockey team has one guy who does that thing and it’s great to have those peers. It’s surreal, but it is great fun.”
Prévost Linton is in his fourth season as the regular anthem singer for Canadiens home games, although he has performed at games on and off for seven or eight years.
“We used to be several singers and we’d sort of rotate,” he said. “They’d have young singers come on and do a promotion thing.
“At one point, I got a call saying that the powers-that-be like the way I do it, because I do it in this traditional, old-fashioned, solid, classical way and I’m good every time and I never mess up,” Prévost Linton recounted.
Some anthem singers have a signature style like Boston Bruins legend Rene Rancourt, who salutes the crowd at TD Garden and pumps his fist at the end of the U.S. anthem.
Prévost Linton opted for a reserved style, trying not to be showy.
The Star-Spangled Banner is more fun to sing “because it’s more demanding,” he said.
“I love to sing it because it’s just a little more demanding vocally because it has a wide range,” he said. “It goes high and it goes low. Most people are stuck in the middle and they don’t quite know how to go to the extremes.”
His work as an anthem singer has made him known to a wider audience in Quebec, including many anglophones who probably don’t know that Prévost Linton once performed with a Québécois rock group in the 1960s called Les Sinners. Their biggest hit was a French version of The Beatles’ single Penny Lane.
Prévost Linton was 15 when the group formed and spent three years in the band from 1965 to 1968.
His real name is Charles Prévost. But with Les Sinners, he became Charles Linton.
“Linton is a total invention,” he said.
“At one point, we all took English names to sound like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, because this is what we were doing. We were sort of like a meld of the Stones, the Beatles and The Who and Jimi Hendrix and whatever.”
He went on to become a classically trained singer, studying at the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique in Montréal.
When he started singing the anthem at Canadiens games, “Linton” got tacked on to his name.
“I thought maybe it’s good because a lot of people know me under Charles Linton … I had this classical career as Charles Prévost and this pop career as Charles Linton. So I said, let’s do Charles Prévost Linton. And it stuck,” he said.
“I feel like taking the ‘Linton’ away, but then the people are going to say why did he do that? So let’s not rock the boat.”
Prévost Linton’s face now graces campaign posters in Outremont, where he’s running in the upcoming municipal election for a borough councillor position with Équipe Conservons Outremont. He’s lived in the borough since his early teens and raised his family there.
He’s often recognized in public, but that isn’t always the case campaigning.
“Some people don’t make the connection,” he said. “They look at me and they say: ‘That guy looks familiar.’ ”
Prévost Linton has done many different things in his music career that has spanned several decades, including perform with the Opéra de Montréal. He also does translation and editing work — from English to French and French to English.
He was raised in both languages. His father was francophone and his mother was English from Saskatchewan.
“I was raised totally biculturally, also,” he said. “We used to read Tintin, Spirou. And we used to listen to the Lone Ranger and Howdy Doody.”
He was always a Habs fan growing up.
“I’m just old enough to remember the first slew of Stanley Cups,” he said of the Canadiens’ consecutive wins from 1955 to 1960.
The first time they lost after that, “I said: ‘What happened?’ I never conceived that they might lose.”
Snow and traffic once prevented Prévost Linton from getting to the Bell Centre for a game when he was stuck in gridlock. The microphone didn’t work on another occasion. (There’s always a backup one now.)
“When the mic didn’t work I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned around and (Washington Capitals forward Alex) Ovechkin was there and he handed me his stick,” said Prévost Linton, who jokingly played along.
And then there was the time in 2003 when the phone rang at 5:30 p.m. when he was at home with a last-minute request for him to replace the scheduled anthem singer.
It was during a period when Prévost Linton used to be asked to sing the anthems when an American team was playing the Canadiens.
He arrived at the Bell Centre just in time, got the microphone and started singing a cappella — the American anthem first, and, after the applause, O Canada.
“And when I came off they told me, ‘You didn’t notice we were playing against Ottawa tonight?’”
“So ever since then, every time I walked in the door, the guard downstairs, the doorman, the barman, everybody (says) ‘Charles, just one anthem tonight.’”
“It’s a running gag now.”
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