By Steve Schonberg
2015 marks the 35th year that PBS will air America’s national Independence Day celebration live from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. One of many 4th of July traditions, the concert brings viewers around the U.S. entertainment from some of the country’s top performers with this year’s headliner’s including Barry Manilow, Alabama, Nicole Scherzinger, Hunter Hayes, KC and the Sunshine Band, and more.
Having first interviewed Barry Manilow back in January as he embarked on his final tour, which concluded on his birthday (June 17) in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY, I learned recently what excites him about being a part of this annual spectacular on the Capitol lawn–now for a third time.
“It’s an honor to be asked to do the concert,” he said. “We’ve all seen this show for many many years and standing there in Washington, DC and being surrounded by the most famous American structures while singing these songs is just thrilling. Not only is in a wonderfully entertaining show, but it reminds me of my pride in being an American. I bet you it does that for everyone.”
Known for his wide range of pop songs, Manilow has a soft spot for patriotic tunes, himself having penned the classic track, “Let Freedom Ring,” which opens with a verse from “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
“Freedom is really who we are,” Manilow said, referring to the American spirit and his set list for the Capitol Fourth concert has been selected to reflect it. “All [of the songs] in their own way are about freedom. They speak to my feelings about humanity at its best.” With that, he shared that he has a special appreciation too for traditional patriotic songs “like ‘America the Beautiful’ or the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’… I think most of them started out as poems and then they put them to music… These traditional songs are poetry and they have more depth to them like a poem would than pop songs,” he said. “The traditional songs are more fun for me because they take me back to the world where they were written. The language is more elevated than it would be for a pop song and they are more challenging to sing… but I sure do love it.”
He also loves how music and freedom brings people together–even those who seem to always disagree. Manilow added, “It feels to me like in this town, in Washington, DC, that always has so much difficulty agreeing about anything, for a few hours on this one day this audience is of one mind in their love for this country and this town finally is in harmony for the few hours [of a] great show.”
A Capitol Fourth airs with a delay in certain time zones. Check local listings or PBS.org.