INDIANAPOLIS — The first time Jim Nabors sang Back Home Again in Indiana, he thought he was supposed to be singing the national anthem.
"When I got over there to meet the conductor of the Purdue band, I said, 'What key do you do this in?' He looked at me and said, 'We only got one key.' I said, 'No, Star-Spangled Banner's got two keys.' He said, 'You're not singing that.' I said, 'What the hell am I singing?'"
The year was 1972. It was five minutes before the start of the Indianapolis 500 when Nabors discovered he was singing about new mown hay and moonlight on the Wabash.
"I had never seen that many in all my life," Nabors said. "He said, 'You're singing the traditional song that opens the race, Back Home Again in Indiana. And I looked at him kind of funny and said, 'I'm from Alabama. You still want me to do it?' He said, 'Well, do you know it?' I said, 'I know the melody, but I don't know the words.' This is a true story. I'm writing on my hand the words in this five minutes."
Since then, Nabors has sung the song 35 more times. He announced his retirement earlier this year.
"You know, there's a time in life when you have to move on," he said. "I'll be 84 this year. I just figured it was time. … This is really the highlight of my year to come here. It's very sad for me, but nevertheless there's something inside of me that tells me when it's time to go."