Michael Belinkie (Col ’98) always has a song in his heart. “I sing even when I’m not with people,” he admits.
He’ll belt out a tune in the kitchen, the car or the acoustically perfect shower. Everybody does, of course. Yet few of us also will perform a solo with the president of the United States sitting three feet away, as Belinkie has.
A member of the U.S. Navy Band, Petty Officer Belinkie belongs to the Sea Chanters, the Navy’s official chorus. In addition to singing at the White House, he has appeared at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Cathedral, the Naval Academy, Barack Obama’s inauguration and in gyms, parks and auditoriums across the country.
For a man who loves music, Belinkie has the perfect job.
“Everybody in the Sea Chanters is doing what they want to do. It doesn’t feel like work,” he says.
Based in Washington, D.C., the ensemble consists exclusively of enlisted personnel—19 vocalists, three instrumentalists and one audio technician. They routinely sing for the nation’s political and military leaders, foreign dignitaries, veterans and ordinary citizens.
Belinkie has sung all his life. He belonged to middle and high school choruses while growing up in Henrico County, Va. As a teenager, he often dreamed of a musical career. “But I didn’t know if that was a viable way to make a living,” he says. “The only professional singers I knew of were stars.”
So at UVA Belinkie majored in economics—a practical choice—and music—a passionate one. He also kept on singing, joining the Virginia Glee Club, Coro Virginia (a classical group) and the Virginia Gentlemen (an a cappella men’s chorus).
After graduation, he worked briefly as a stockbroker, then studied law at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. Even with school demands, Belinkie sang with various groups. At one, another member was a Sea Chanter who told him about the group and mentioned it needed a tenor.
Belinkie sent the Navy a tape of his singing. He quickly got called in for an audition and received a job offer the same day. The next thing he knew, he was signing enlistment papers. Then, in late 2002, he was off to boot camp at the Great Lakes Training Center near Chicago, learning to make his bunk, march and wear a uniform.
When he returned to Washington, he joined the Sea Chanters and started learning the repertoire. It’s varied, including sea chanteys, Broadway show tunes, traditional choral pieces, pop, rock and spirituals. “We always want to give a well-rounded, versatile performance,” Belinkie says.
Patriotic music is a regular feature. Many programs include “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Eternal Father” and “Anchors Aweigh.” Often, the Sea Chanters sing the latter at a concert’s end. It brings audiences to their feet and Navy veterans to tears.
Belinkie clearly loves what he’s doing and plans to do it for a long time.
“I’ve re-enlisted twice,” he says. “So, I think it’s a career.”
On July 4, 2010, the United States Navy Band Sea Chanters gave a special performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Watch and listen as they perform the National Anthem, “America the Beautiful” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”