Before “One Shining Moment” became the Final Four staple it is today, David Barrett had to be convinced that then-CBS Sports executive Doug Towey was actually interested in his ballad.
“He called me and I thought it was one of my meathead friends,” Barrett told Front Office Sports. “He said, ‘I hope you have a lawyer.’ I replied, ‘Well, no, but I got a good dentist.’ I mean, I had no idea who this guy was. Finally, it clicked that it was real. Doug was a great man.”
The song —- written on a napkin at a bar in East Lansing, Michigan — will run for the 34th time after Monday’s Baylor vs. Gonzaga title game. The only time it hasn’t since 1987 was last year when March Madness was canceled because of the pandemic.
While each network has recognizable theme music at the front of sports broadcasts, there’s nothing comparable to Barrett’s creation that runs after each NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
“I don’t think there was another comparison,” said Harold Bryant, executive producer and executive vice president of production of CBS Sports. “It’s so unique. I don’t think there’s anything like it to end a sporting event.”
Like so many teams in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64, “One Shining Moment” was almost a one-and-done footnote. The anthem was originally planned for the Super Bowl. That’s when things went sideways — before a series of fortunate events.
“One Shining Moment” had to be shelved from its slot during the Super Bowl XXI telecast in 1987, a postgame that became known for the debuts of two other traditions: the Gatorade shower and the game’s Most Valuable Player exclaiming, “I’m going to Disney World!”
Had it run on CBS after that Giants’ victory over the Broncos, it very likely would have been a backdrop to game highlights just that once given the rotation of the Super Bowl among the networks.
“The show ran long and they didn’t have time to fit it in,” said veteran investigative journalist Armen Keteyian, a lifelong friend of Barrett’s who delivered the cassette tape of “One Shining Moment” to CBS Sports in 1986. “Then it becomes the signature song of the Final Four. That’s just happenstance.
“For me, it was kind of a full circle irony. I covered seven Final Fours for CBS Sports and it’s my favorite event to cover. I’ll never forget being on that floor and hearing ‘One Shining Moment’ as the confetti comes down.”
Barrett, a stellar basketball player in his own right in his younger years where he played against Keteyian at rival high school in Michigan, was a struggling musician when CBS Sports picked up “One Shining Moment.”
Then, everything changed.
“I was writing all sorts of songs,” Barrett said. “I thought some were pretty good, but I had no access (to get them picked up.) I was just writing them and putting them in my sock drawer. Then ‘One Shining Moment’ happened and all of a sudden I became talented. Many of those pieces were used in the Olympics or themes for CBS.”
Barrett, 66, doesn’t talk about the money he’s made off “One Shining Moment,” other than saying CBS “pays me like an adult, and that’s good.” He’s never let it be used in commercials. Instead, the song was a springboard to his work both inside and outside of sports. He’s done the music for several documentaries for PBS and has earned two Emmys.
“When I deal with PBS, they don’t think of me as the guy behind ‘One Shining Moment,’” Barrett said. “They think of me as an orchestrator or someone who writes for their films. It turns out, I have a knack at writing for this, for some reason.”
Barrett did the vocals for “One Shining Moment” the first several years and 10 times overall. While Teddy Pendergrast, Jennifer Hudson and Ne-Yo also did the vocals, the version sung by Luther Vandross is the one that’s resonated most and will be used for the 18th time Monday.
“I know talking to David and when Luther did it, he was blown away,” Keteyian said. “He was so grateful that somebody like Luther Vandross agreed to do it. Not one time did David ever say to me, ‘Oh God, you know, I can’t believe they’re taking my song away from me.’ That’s not part of his personality.”
Vandross died in 2005, two years after suffering a stroke. Some of the royalties from “One Shining Moment” go to his estate, which funds The Luther and Mary Ida Vandross Scholarship. Last year, the scholarship was awarded to 30 students attending HBCUs who are from the greater Philadelphia area.
Vandross, however, wasn’t the biggest basketball or sports fan, for that matter.
“No, he wasn’t, unless you count pro wrestling as a sport,” quipped Brenda Shields, Vandross’s cousin who oversees the scholarship.
Shields said Vandross voiced “One Shining Moment” because “he just liked it and wanted to do it.”
Another of Vandross’s cousins actually played in the tournament. Paris Horne was a senior on the 2010-11 St. John’s team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tourney. Convincing his friends that he was related to Vandross was a task.
“I would tell people when they talked about Luther and his songs like ‘One Shining Moment’ that I was related to him,” said Horne, who played overseas before the pandemic and now coaches. “The guys would tease me. Like, ‘Oh right. He’s your cousin.’ Sometimes I’d have to call family members or show them pictures of us. But why would I just make it up?
“It is special to know that that was your cousin. You hear that song and you just know the imprint that he put on the world.”
Alanna Campbell, feature producer and associate director at CBS Sports, is in charge of the highlights and syncing up “One Shining Moment” for the postgame package this year. The clips are filled as the tournament progresses. Campbell and her crew have about 10 minutes to finalize the piece after the final buzzer.
And there’s no indication the song is going anywhere.
“No, no. We realize that it’s an iconic song,” Bryant said. “You know, it’s just become so attached to the tournament. It elicits so much emotion and memory. We haven’t thought about getting rid of the song. It’s part of the fabric of the tournament.”