As he completed his studies to become an Illinois state trooper in 2010, Jonn-Paul Oliveto was pulled out of class and into a room where he stood opposite a captain, sergeant and master sergeant. To earn a passing mark, he had to sing the National Anthem.
“I had an appointment to perform in front of them, without any rehearsal, so you can imagine my nerves,” recalls Oliveto, a trooper who works the Chicago area for the state police today. “But I’d come up with an idea: Instead of having the bagpipes play the National Anthem for our graduation ceremony, I would sing it.”
And sing it he certainly did, to the point where the notes resonate to this day. Oliveto — who has no formal training whatsoever in the music department — has now become a go-to vocalist whenever the state police hold important functions.
After his unconventional audition, “I sang the National Anthem at our graduation as something I would give to my class. And from then on all the higher-ups in the state police suggested that I keep doing it, and it’s an honor to keep doing it.”
He was even tapped to sing the American and Canadian National Anthems at the International Chiefs of Police Association convention in Chicago.
For Oliveto, the musical honor comes as an extension of his Italian upbringing. His parents, who both claim Calabrese heritage, were born overseas (his father in Italy, his mother in Argentina).
“I started singing when I was much younger, probably around 12 or 13 years old,” Oliveto says. “I’ve always had a passion for my music and probably took after my paternal grandmother. She was always singing around the house.”
And that’s about all the musical schooling Oliveto has ever known. A baritone, he credits his ability to regular singing over the years; he’s also a fan of contemporary classic arias, while comparing his vocal style to that of Josh Groban.
The word on his singing ability has spread beyond the law enforcement ranks. He sang before Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a host of other dignitaries at Judy Baar Topinka’s memorial service.
And in February, Oliveto sang the American and National Anthems at Casa Italia’s Person of the Year Gala. That evening, he stepped into the spotlight with 800 pairs of eyes and ears focused entirel on him. “It was nerve wracking, but as a performer it’s always to my benefit,” he says. “With solo singing or public performance, there are always some nerves to deal with. But that’s what makes it even more powerful — and it was an honor to be part of that event.”
To a large extent, the event’s aim dovetails with Oliveto’s chief passion as an artist. “I’m committed to preserving our culture,” he says. “That’s really integrated into my background and upbringing — and it’s truly a gift, something we have to keep. I carry on my grandparents’ teachings, their beliefs, their culture.”