Jim Nabors played the role of Gomer Pyle for just six years, both on The Andy Griffith Show and on Gomer Pyle, USMC. He has been singing at the opening of the Indy 500 for six times that long, nearly four decades.
This year, as Nabors announced on Sunday, would be his last time. Health issues have made it difficult for him to travel to Indiana to sing “Back Home in Indiana” at the start of the Super Bowl of auto racing.
When asked who should sing it next year, Nabors encouraged the crowd to sing it themselves like those horse race enthusiasts before the Kentucky Derby. It is a good suggestion, but there are a handful of singers born in Indiana who could prove adequate successors to Nabors.
Born in the state capitol as Kenneth Edmonds, this R&B artist would provide a dose of diversity to a sport that is generally accused of catering to white males.
2. Janet Jackson
The most successful of the singing clan still surviving could add some energy and dance-ability to the unofficial state song.
3. John Cougar Mellancamp
Already a boxer, a rock star, a political activist and a folkie, this Midwestern icon could provide much sincerity to the Hoosier anthem.
4. David Lee Roth
Van Halen’s former front man could transform “Back Home in Indiana” into a classic rock anthem.
5. Axl Rose
The man who gave us “Welcome to the Jungle” and a regretful cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” could infuse some rocking energy to the start of the race.
6. Adam Lambert
This American Idol favorite would add a sweetness to the song that could even grow into an upgrade over the rendition done by Nabors.
7. Ted Leo
Nothing would fit better into the Indy 500 than some indie rock, which would be provided by this duet partner of Aimee Mann in The Both.
8. Crystal Gayle
Though older sis Loretta Lynn hails from across the state lines, this country-pop alto would be a great representative of the state of Indiana.
9. Doug Anderson
A member of the popular Christian group Lighthouse, this Hoosier’s rendition could bring a tone of southern gospel to the traditional race.
10. Thomas Hampson
This baritone opera singer, born in Elkhart, would probably be the best bet to continue singing “Back Home in Indiana” the way Jim Nabors has for the past 36 years.