BY KURT DUSTERBERG
Raleigh’s KK Fritsch spent her childhood in the spotlight. At the age of 7, she debuted her sweet and cheerful version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Carolina Hurricanes game. For the next seven seasons, she served as the hockey team’s game-night national anthem singer, delighting crowds at the RBC Center (now PNC Arena) with not only her rendition, but also her signature pink boots, a beaming smile and an endearing post-anthem wave to the crowd.
Now 24 years old, Fritsch looks back and realizes she was born for the role. “I have a very extroverted personality,” she says. “My parents always said, ‘Wherever there was a microphone, you just got up and sang.’ I think I just found so much joy in doing that. It just developed into something bigger as I got older.”
The Hurricanes gigs led to NFL game opportunities, where she sang to crowds of 50,000-plus for teams such as the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears. “Those were really big appearances for me, and I enjoyed every single one of them,” Fritsch says.
The anthems were just part of her growing resume. She landed roles in North Carolina Theatre’s productions of “Annie” and “Peter Pan” at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (newly renamed the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts), while taking voice lessons and advanced dance classes. But mostly, there was always a song in KK’s heart. “I think I always wanted to be a singer,” she says. “But I’m a very realistic person.”
So when she graduated from St. David’s School in Raleigh, Fritsch left herself some wiggle room. She enrolled at Belmont University in Nashville, a school known for nurturing the careers of aspiring musicians. That’s where the realist stepped forward.
Today, Fritsch is a nurse in the neurointensive care unit at WakeMed in Raleigh, one dream having made way for another. In August, however, she will enroll at the University of Tennessee to become a nurse anesthetist. She still sings the national anthem a couple of times per year at Hurricanes games, where the fans often remember her with words that make her smile, like “You look the exact same, only bigger,” she says with a laugh. “Everyone has really sweet things to say.
I don’t think I can explain how appreciative I am of my time there, and the people I met.”
Singing the national anthem to crowds of 18,000 people is a pretty scary job, especially for a 7-year-old. Did you feel any pressure in that role?
I never did. The Carolina Hurricanes is an awesome organization. Everybody who works there is really great. Because I started so young, I don’t think I really grasped what was happening when I was 7 years old. By the time I did understand it, I had a few years under my belt. It was like, well, this is just kind of what I do, this is my thing—and I loved doing it. I really enjoyed my time there.
When you graduated high school, you went to Belmont, right there next to Music Row in Nashville. Did you still have in mind that you might pursue a career in music?
Belmont University is a huge music school, but even throughout high school I was thinking music was kind of a stretch. It’s a hard industry to crack. As I was getting older in high school I wanted something that I knew was stable, but I also didn’t want to make a job of something I loved doing. I feared it would take the excitement out of it.
Did you participate in the music scene there?
I did sing with friends of mine, or groups. I always laugh because the normal college experience is people go out on the weekends and party. But at Belmont, you went out and you sang. You played music together, and that was your weekend. I did in that capacity, but I didn’t do much performing in front of crowds. But if you had a house party, I would get up and sing with people. That brought a lot of joy and happiness and excitement.
Author’s note: After one year at Belmont, Fritsch returned to Raleigh and took classes at North Carolina State University before getting her nursing degree at Barton College in Wilson.
What has your experience in nursing been like?
I don’t know what normal nursing looks like because I walked into nursing in the middle of a pandemic. That aspect has been tough. It was a lot of learning very quickly. It is a neurointensive care and neuro trauma unit. We have people who might have strokes or an aneurism or a brain bleed. And we have neuro trauma—like car accidents, gunshot wounds—anything that can affect the spine or the brain.
Is that kind of exposure difficult to process?
Everyone says you can’t take it home, but it’s very hard to leave at the door. You get to know patients’ families if they’re there for a long amount of time. It’s not just about the patients, it’s about the people they would leave behind.
How is your personality suited to making that adjustment?
I think I do have a tough personality in terms of being able to put my thoughts and feelings to the side to get a job done. In order to find joy in a profession like that, you have to be able to process the bad aspects of it. So I’ve had to get tough over time by just accepting that this is life. But there are a lot of good moments—the patients who do really well, the patients who are super thankful.
But your path is about to change. You’re going to graduate school in August?
CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist) was always my goal, but you have to be a nurse before you can be a CRNA. I knew I wanted to be in ICU, and I love neuro. I’m really thankful for the time I’ve had there. I think God puts you exactly where you’re supposed to be, and those lessons become clear as time goes by. I think I’ve had that with the Canes—and I’ve had that with my job—and I’m looking forward to seeing whatever He wants to show me in this next step of life.
With graduate school ahead, does that make it harder to figure out where music might fall into your life?
I’ve thought about that. Now that I’m going to school and it’s three years, I guess it will be put on hold even longer if I were to want to pursue something. I hope it never goes away. I hope I never lose that aspect. Even if it means coming back and singing for the Canes a couple times a season, then that’s great. I’m really thankful they’ve let me do that. My priority is getting my feet under me, making sure that I’m on the right track in terms of what I want my future to look like.
A lot of children go through performing arts programs with hopes of being a singer or performer. What would you say to those parents who have a 7-year-old at home who wants to pursue that track?
I would say not to push them. I think my parents did a great job of letting me kind of navigate it. If it was something I was passionate about, then we did it, but my parents never, ever pushed me to do any of the performing arts. They gave me a lot of responsibility in making my own decisions, which helped me mature in a way. To anyone who has a younger child who wants to do that, let them do it and support them through that journey. As soon as they don’t want to do it, don’t try to live vicariously through them. Don’t be a theater mom. If they want to pursue other things, then let them.
What do you think when you look back at your childhood self?
Just because my life looks a lot different now, I look back and I think it’s so cool. I babysit a lot and I see kids that are that age, and I think, I cannot believe that I was that young. I was performing in front of 18,000 people when I was a little nugget. It’s crazy to me. Honestly, I’m really grateful. I think back to my younger self and I don’t know why it was me who was chosen, but I’m so glad it was. I’m so thankful for the opportunity, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime type of gig.
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