Chances are that you have seen Sonya Bryson-Kirksey perform. The 20-year Air Force veteran has become a local celebrity, having sung the national anthem at Buccaneers, Rays and Magic games, among other events. She is mostly known for singing the anthem at Tampa Bay Lightning hockey home games. She started singing for the club in 2013 after she was discovered while singing at a military appreciation game for the Rays.
A Riverview resident for four years, she was chosen personally by Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik as the club’s full-time singer during the playoffs. She sings at a lot of the regular season games as well. Bryson-Kirksey has been a singer since she was a child. She started performing the anthem when she joined the Air Force and became a recruiter after originally doing maintenance scheduling, and she has now sung the anthem at over 1,000 events.
In early July, she recorded the anthem that was being played before official Lightning home games in the NHL bubble in Toronto. The talented Bryson-Kirkey is also an event singer, mentor and artist.
Before COVID-19, she had a goal of visiting five schools a year during the hockey season to share her insight with either an ROTC class, performing arts class or first to fourth grade classes. She explained to the students that what she does is special, but that anybody that has talent, practices, takes care of their vocal talent and pushes themselves has the capability to do what she does.
According to Bryson-Kirksey, her most memorable event that she sung at was in 2014 when President Obama came to MacDill Air Force Base. Bryson-Kirksey said that particular event was an honor and a wonderful milestone, but hockey is what drives her, and that the Lightning gig is by far her favorite.
“What I enjoy most is emoting what I feel about the anthem and this country in general, and the people on the other side who understand what I’m trying to get across,” said Bryson-Kirksey. “I mean every word—I’m singing with conviction, and there are parts in the anthem when I’m singing and tearing up because I do believe in this country and I do believe that we have better days ahead of us. The America I sing about is the America that I believe in.”
Bryson-Kirksey has so much pride in how well the Lightning are doing this postseason. She said that in 2015, when she started singing the anthem in the playoffs full-time when the Lightning last went to the Stanley Cup Finals, it was by far the loudest, most energetic crowd that she has ever performed for.
She is disappointed that she’s missing out on seeing the team play in person this postseason, but she understands that this situation is for the better. She is high risk because she has multiple sclerosis, as well as diabetes. She is now on a keto diet to help combat those diseases and improve her health. She also recently had knee surgery, so it may have been difficult for her to get out on the ice to perform.
Bryson-Kirksey has been married to her husband, Jimmie Kirksey, since 2015, right after she retired from the military as a technical sergeant (E-6). She said that he has been her backbone through everything, including two knee replacement surgeries, foot surgery and elbow surgery.
He is there with her at every game to support her. She refers to Kirksey as her hero and her strong tower. Bryson-Kirksey is hopeful that the Lightning bring home the Stanley Cup, and she is very proud of the team.