NCAA Men's Tournament: The man behind 'One Shining Moment'
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
When David Barrett talks, there is a poetic sense to it. He likens the most significant moment of his career to a "dove being let out of a cage." He talks about the "serendipity of life." He describes his family as "my warmth."
When asked recently about "One Shining Moment" – the song he created 35 years ago and which changed his life forever — he sat at his Ann Arbor, Michigan, home with a guitar conveniently placed on his lap and paused before answering.
"The door opened," Barrett told me. "And I walked through it."
The trophy presentation will take place on the hardwood at Lucas Oil Stadium, but for millions watching around the nation, the true coronation of each season’s champion is when Barrett’s iconic tune, written in 1986, is played across the airwaves.
It is hard to imagine March Madness without "One Shining Moment," and few songs have had such an iconic connection with the sport they pay tribute to. Just like you hope a celebrated basketball player has a sense of passion for what he does, you’d wish for the songwriter of a familiar tune to live and breathe their music, too.
Barrett does, and as an added bonus, he is deeply, eternally in love with basketball.
"What happened with the song has become something I could never have dreamed of," Barrett says. "Music has been my life, and basketball is also my great love. To have them joined together like this is perfect – but it could so easily have happened differently."
The first time "One Shining Moment" was used on CBS was for the 1987 tournament, providing the audio emotive for a montage of March Madness’s most telling drama. It has been a staple ever since, with Barrett initially used on vocals before versions by Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Jennifer Hudson and Ne-Yo were produced in later years. The Vandross track has emerged as the staple and will be used again this year.
Back in the mid-'80s, Barrett was a musician and songwriter trying to make his way in the recording industry. One night in 1986, after performing a set at the Varsity Inn, a club in East Lansing, Michigan, he attempted to strike up a conversation with an attractive waitress while nursing a cold beer at the bar.
With highlights of Larry Bird in his Boston Celtics pomp playing on the television, Barrett thought he might make an impression by expressing the poetic beauty of basketball. Not so much. By the time Barrett had finished waxing lyrical about Bird’s skills and the glory of hoops, his companion had walked away.
He did, however, have a melody in his mind and three words – "one shining moment" – written down on a napkin.
Napkins play a continuing part in this story. Due to meet a friend for breakfast the next morning, Barrett could not stop thinking about the basketball theme. When his friend turned up late, he scribbled down the lyrics on the back of a … yep, you guessed it. After breakfast, he went home and composed the score in no more than 30 minutes.
"It was quite thrilling," he says. "Until then I had been writing songs for the sake of writing them and sticking them in my sock drawer. I knew I had something here, but I didn’t know how to get it in the right hands."
Barrett’s only contact in the sports world was journalist Armen Keteyian, then at Sports Illustrated. The pair played high school basketball against each other – Barrett was good enough to earn a scholarship to Albion College but injured his ankle in an early practice and never played – and Keteyian took a cassette tape of "One Shining Moment" across the street to CBS.
With CBS executive Doug Towey showing immediate interest, the track was initially due to be deployed over a highlights package for the 1987 Super Bowl, but when postgame interviews went long, the segment was never used. Instead, it was repurposed for that year’s NCAA Tournament and first played minutes after Keith Smart’s game-clinching jumper helped Indiana beat Syracuse.
"Even now, it is so special to hear it whenever it is played," Barrett said. "They have turned it into visual poetry. It brings back these fond memories of when I wrote it, this time in my life when everything came together and set up all this opportunity. It is emotional, and I couldn’t be more gratified. The song still sounds like it did with a piano and me in my apartment."
Barrett parlayed his association with the tune into a long and successful career writing music for television, with credits on work that has been used in coverage of the Olympics, golf majors, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships and numerous documentaries.
Yet "One Shining Moment" will remain by far his most famous piece, a reality he happily embraced long ago, making this his favorite time of year. Normally, CBS takes Barrett and his family to the Final Four. This year, naturally, that was not possible.
And so, on Monday night, Barrett will have a smile on his face. He’ll gather at home with his wife, Tracy, his daughters, Esther and Claire, and his son-in-law, Tom.
Together, they’ll watch the game – and wait for what comes after it.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.