Spectators were speechless as Steven Wilson sang the national anthem in his native language of Lakota at the Women’s National Invitation Tournament Sweet 16 game on Saturday in the Sanford Coyote Sport Center.
Wilson, a first-year medical biology major at USD, has been singing the national anthem in Lakota since he was a junior in high school and has shared his heritage with people everywhere. After accepting an invite from Joe Thuente, Wilson had the opportunity to sing at the basketball game on Saturday.
“I think it went very well and was able to have a lot of control over how I sang because USD Sanford Coyote Sports Center has a very good sound system, the reaction of the crowd was amazing and it was probably the best I’ve ever received,” Wilson said. “I almost cried because the reaction was unbelievable. I had so many emotions.”
Wilson was invited to sing the national anthem at a USD basketball game after he sang at a Class A state boys basketball tournament in Rapid City, and the videos people took went viral.
Kevin Phillips, a Sioux Falls morning radio host and public address announcer, was at the game and filmed Wilson’s performance. He posted the video on Facebook during the game and it now has well over 750,000 views.
Phillips said he enjoyed hearing Wilson sing in Lakota and was happy to share his video with thousands of people.
“I am a huge fan of the Lakota language, and I’m a huge fan of the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’” Phillips said. “In fact, with no band that night, I sang it at the tournament. But when Steven started singing, I could tell this was special. It was beautiful and about made me cry.”
Although he hadn’t met Wilson prior to his performance, Phillips said he was impressed with his performance and excited to see what comes next for him.
“When he finished the anthem, the crowd gave him a very nice ovation,” Phillips said. “It became a positive topic for the rest of the weekend. Steven is a special young man, with a great talent, and a giant heart. I predict good things for him, starting with a college education.”
Wilson started taking Lakota classes in high school and by his junior year, he learned the national anthem in Lakota language. Wilson said even though he knew the language, it was difficult to fit it into the English melody of the national anthem.
“I’ve always sang on my own and have never had anybody help with that,” Wilson said. “It was more like a natural practice thing, but with the Lakota version of the national anthem, it was hard for me to understand it and sing it because it was so different to me. It’s actually the same translation, as close you can possibly get.”
Once Wilson fully learned the national anthem in Lakota, he performed it for the first time at a home football game at his alma mater, Red Cloud High School in Pine Ridge, SD.
Wilson said since this was his first time singing in Lakota, he was full of nerves and anticipation.
“At the time, I was a mess,” Wilson said. “I was just trying so hard to remember the words and sing it, but as time went on, singing it in front of people came naturally. Instead of putting more thought into it, there’s more emotion.”