Hart's Content
Best known as the anthemist for the Philadelphia Flyers, Lauren Hart—musician, composer and TV personality, as well as activist, wife and mother—has built a rich life full of people, places and experiences that inspire her
by Bill Donahue

Hardcore fans of the Philadelphia Flyers have a golden rule: Always get to the Wells Fargo Center early—to watch the Flyers and their opponents circle the ice for a warm-up skate, to beat the lines at the concession stands, and, most important, to hear stirring renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” and, when a Canadian team is in town, “O Canada” before the puck drops.

The pregame belongs to Flyers anthemist Lauren Hart, who has been using her voice to set the tone for Flyers home games since the 1990s. The two—Hart and the Flyers—have become inseparable in the minds of Flyers fans, a gritty bunch with a reputation for being tough to please. For pivotal games, the Flyers break out the big guns, whereby Hart and the late Kate Smith, who appears by way of overhead video, take turns belting out verses of “God Bless America.”  

Hart has long, deep history with the Flyers. She is the daughter of Gene Hart, a man who is as much a part of Flyers lore as revered players such as Bobby Clarke, Ron Hextall and Claude Giroux. In 1967, when the Flyers franchise made its NHL debut, the city of Philadelphia was introduced to hockey through broadcasts starring Gene Hart’s voice. Many fans still recall the words he cried in 1974, with his trademark zeal, when the Flyers reached the top of the proverbial mountain by winning the first of their back-to-back championships: “The Flyers win the Stanley Cup! The Flyers win the Stanley Cup!”

Gene Hart’s tenure in the broadcast booth ended after the 1994-1995 NHL season, and he earned induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997. He died in July 1999, though his legacy lives on, in part through the voice of his talented daughter, Lauren.

Although best known in the Philadelphia area for her appearances at Flyers home games, Lauren Hart leads a full life away from the rink, including her work as a nationally acclaimed musician and recording artist. She has shared the stage with A-list acts such as Train and Tori Amos, as well as a legend in entertainment: Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, for whom she served as an opening act while working as a soloist in Monaco in the French Riviera. Although it was late in Sinatra’s career, young in hers, she says he was “still awesome,” and she recalls the experience as “a thrill.”

Hart’s entertainment career extends to television, both on screen and behind the scenes. She has her own arts-and-culture-themed show, “All Hart,” on Cherry Hill, N.J.-based WMCN TV. She also composes the soundtrack for a show on the Travel Channel, “Dangerous Grounds,” which is hosted by Todd Carmichael, CEO and co-founder of Philadelphia coffee titan La Colombe and also a world traveler and adventurer who owns the world record for the fastest unsupported trek to the South Pole. (He’s her husband, too, by the way.)

Her most cherished role, however, is that of mother to four children, ages 3 to 12. She and Carmichael adopted their kids—three girls, one boy—from Ethiopia after tragedy struck their young lives. The first (and oldest) child came into the Hart-Carmichael family nearly five years ago, the last (and youngest) child two years ago.

“We’ve worked hard at understanding one another,” she says of her family, which lives in Gladwyne. “There’s a big difference between having an infant and having a 7- or 8-year-old who has been traumatized, who has lost everything. With the six of us together, I don’t know that other people have what we have, and I’m so grateful. We have such appreciation for one another; we don’t have bad days. This is what inspires me.”

We spoke with Hart before the start of this year’s Flyers season to talk about the many sources of happiness in her life: her love for the team and its fans; her philanthropic work for organizations to help children in need and people affected by cancer (she’s a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma); her work as a performing artist; and, above all, the importance of family.

Your father, the inimitable Gene Hart, was the voice of the Flyers for so long. Now you are, only in a different way. What is it about this team, this organization, that keeps you so close to it?
For me, the experience of the Flyers and hockey is magical, and it has been from the very beginning. I went to games with my dad and my mom for as long as I can remember. My dad was larger than life. It’s a cool experience for a kid when your dad works for a sports team, and unlike an athlete, he didn’t leave [to play for another team]; he had a permanent position there for so many years. The people who work for sports teams tend to be kind of transient, but I had a lifetime of experiences with the Flyers. It really was a family for me.

As a kid, I always wanted to sing—I always had that—and when I was growing up, a bunch of different people [sang the anthem], and I did get to do it a few times. I asked my dad about it, and he was always protective; he wanted to know that I was good, and he didn’t want it to seem like, “Oh, Gene Hart’s kid gets to do it.” So for a long time, it wasn’t my time. I was living elsewhere pursuing a career in music. For a long time I didn’t live here. I did move back in the late 1990s, and one of the reasons was that I missed home. It really is true what they say about feast or famine; I’ve really enjoyed an amazing career, but a lot of times I was off the radar.

Becoming the second voice of the Flyers in my family was important to me, because I certainly idolized my father. Just by chance, my dad was still alive when it all came together. They were opening the new building [then the CoreStates Center, now the Wells Fargo Center], and they asked me to sing. As I walked off the ice, they asked me, “Do you want to do it every game?” It was a great thing, having a gig here in Philly, sort of making this my home base so I could be around my parents. I never intended what it turned into, and I’m really grateful. My bond with the fans and the Flyers has grown exponentially.
There are some things for Philadelphia sports fans that you don’t mess with, some things that are off limits. For your “duet” with Kate Smith, the fact that it’s you sharing the spotlight speaks volumes about this town’s fondness for you.

I’ve done it so many times, and it never gets old. My heart is pounding just as much every time. It’s a big honor and a big responsibility. You have this huge icon looming overhead, and I want to [do well] and knock it out of the park every time. This has become my hit song. Ask Bruce Springsteen and he might say he hates singing “Born to Run,” but for me it doesn’t get old. … I know the fans in Philadelphia loved my father, and they have opened their arms to me.

In addition to your work with the Flyers, you’re an accomplished musician and recording artist. You’ve recorded several albums, most recently “Awakening,” which was released last year. What’s your inspiration these days?
What’s getting me [inspired] is happiness. For a long time I dwelled in the dark, brooding stuff, thinking that because I was a musician I should feel pain and suffer for my art. [Todd and I] had this instant family, this whole new life, in such a short amount of time … and it has been a really rich life. Before I thought having those things and settling down and being like everybody else would take away from what I did [as an artist], but I credit my kids, because they inspire me to do so much more. I want to set a great example, and I see that what I do for a living matters to them. … Watching my kids and seeing what they’ve been through and the journey they’ve had to make this family we have, I’m in constant awe of them.

With Todd and I, when we met, we both had a passion for Africa—the people, the place. Todd’s business is coffee, so he had a strong connection, with him farming and sourcing. We were married in Zambia. With us spending so much time there, it was undeniable that there were so many kids who need families. There are kids here [in America] who need families and homes, too, but even when things are bad here, there’s always a chance. Over there, when things are bad, there’s no choice, no chance. We felt we had a life and a business and a place to offer kids a good life and a connection to their home, so that when they are adults they can go back and see where they came from and know they have a choice. We want them to see the good things about their country and let them know who they are.

You’ve had so many successes, so many stories with happy endings, yet you’ve also had your share of heartbreak, pain and not-so-happy things. I’m thinking specifically of your cancer diagnosis and the loss of your father. How did you gather the strength to overcome?
You don’t have a choice. I was at a good place in my life when everything happened. I had a record deal … and I was going to be the next big thing. With all the things in my career I was getting, it was really a high point in my life. My dad passed from cancer, and when he passed I was already sick, but I didn’t find out until a few months later. When I found out I had cancer, it was awful having to tell my mom. At the time, people with cancer didn’t really go in front of other people; they weren’t used to seeing people without hair out there with a guitar. I was singing at all the [Flyers] games during that time, but other than that it was a tough time in my life: I got dropped from my label; I got dropped by my boyfriend; I got dropped by my health insurance. My job with the Flyers was my lifeline; I felt really loved. I went out there every night without a wig, and I felt like people really went through that with me, cheered me through it. I think that was a turning point for how people saw me, and it was a turning point for my relationship with the team. I was at the bottom, and here was this place, with 20,000 people on my side, and I felt like it was a real gift from my dad.

You also seem to be involved in a lot of causes and organizations. How do you choose the causes you support?
It’s always [charities that support the fight against] cancer—that will be forever. What Todd and I are involved with, it’s orphans’ charities, mostly in Africa. I’m always a big supporter of the arts, because kids have to be able to have that, and it’s been one of the greatest things in my life. … The No. 1 thing is my kids; any parent knows there’s nothing more important. We brought these kids halfway around the world so I need to be here, and I want to be here. I still perform one or two nights on the road, maybe a week, but I’m no longer on the road for weeks at a time.

Hockey season has returned after a long summer. How do you feel about this year’s Flyers squad?
I say it every year, but we’re going to the Cup. I think we’re on the upswing.  We’ll see. [Flyers legend] Bernie Parent leaned over to me when [the Flyers] got [goaltender] Steve Mason, and he said, “We’re going to the Cup. It might not be for a few years, but they’re going to win the Cup.” He’s never said that before. I believe him. It’s going to happen. When, I don’t know.

Photograph by Len Redkols/Getty