Capital Concerts announced the 41st annual A Capitol Fourth,America’s Independence Day celebration on PBS, will be hosted by multi-platinum recording artist and star of television, film and the Broadway stage Vanessa Williams. Planning has been underway for many months for A Capitol Fourth to be a pre-recorded show due to the pandemic with a live fireworks presentation, in lieu of the traditional live concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The nation’s 245th birthday celebration will feature Williams hosting and performing from Washington, D.C. All-new pre-taped performances from locations across the country will feature top stars from pop, country, R&B, classical and Broadway. Capping off the concert broadcast will be live coverage of the fireworks display over our nation’s iconic skyline captured by multiple cameras stationed around the city.
“I am so honored to be hosting A Capitol Fourth this year,” said host Vanessa Williams, “I first performed on this national July 4th TV tradition in 2005, and it has always held a special place in my heart.”
“As families and friends reunite and the country begins to open up this Fourth of July, we plan to bring you an exciting program with the greatest fireworks display in the nation, performances by the biggest stars and patriotic favorites,” said Executive Producer Michael Colbert. “Make A Capitol Fourth your Independence Day celebration. We have something for everyone’s party.”
The award-winning, top-rated PBS broadcast will bring us together with themes of love, hope, and patriotism, with performances and tributes from around our great country by: multi-platinum selling music legend Jimmy Buffett and Tony, Emmy, and Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee, Cynthia Erivo from Southern California; multi-platinum selling country music icon and Grammy, CMA and ACM Award-winner Alan Jackson from the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville; three-time Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum selling artists Pentatonix overlooking the downtown Los Angeles skyline; Grammy Award-winning country star Jennifer Nettles from the famed Town Hall in NYC’s Times Square with the Broadway Inspirational Voices; acclaimed actress and singer Auli’i Cravalho (Moana, All Together Now) in Queens, NY, from the Unisphere, a symbol of peace through understanding; diamond-selling and multi-Grammy Award-winning band Train overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; and, from Washington, DC: “Empress of Soul” and seven-time Grammy Award-winner Gladys Knight; country music star and Grammy-nominee Mickey Guyton; Tony Award-winning Broadway and television star Ali Stroker; acclaimed ACM New Male Artist of the Year Award-winning, multi-platinum country music singer-songwriter Jimmie Allen; Tony Award-nominated Broadway star Laura Osnes; and the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of top pops conductor Jack Everly. World-renowned four-time Grammy Award-winning soprano superstar Renée Fleming will open the show with a special performance of the national anthem. Additional talent announcements will be coming soon.
The National Symphony Orchestra will perform John Williams’ inspiring composition “Olympic Fanfare” in tribute to Team USA, honoring the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams as they prepare for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The concert will honor men and women of our military and their families for their contributions to our nation and their dedication to service, which exemplifies the American ideals we celebrate on the Fourth of July.
The 41st annual broadcast of A Capitol Fourth airs on PBS Sunday, July 4, 2021 from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. ET, as well as to our troops serving around the world on the American Forces Network. The program can also be heard in stereo over NPR member stations nationwide, and will be streaming on Facebook, YouTube and this site, and available as Video on Demand for a limited time only, July 4 to July 18, 2021.
The top-rated, award-winning program available on television, radio and digital media will feature a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with the National Symphony Orchestra and The Joint Armed Forces Chorus to accompany the fireworks, an audience favorite and an A Capitol Fourth tradition. Also participating are members of the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The Joint Armed Forces Chorus, and The Armed Forces Color Guard provided by the Military District of Washington, D.C.
The History of America’s Independence Day
“Taxation without representation!” was the battle cry in America’s 13 Colonies, which were forced to pay taxes to England’s King George III despite having no representation in the British Parliament. As dissatisfaction grew, British troops were sent in to quell the early movement toward rebellion. Repeated attempts by the Colonists to resolve the crisis without military conflict proved fruitless.
On June 11, 1776, the Colonies’ Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and formed a committee whose express purpose was drafting a document that would formally sever their ties with Great Britain. The committee included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, who was considered the strongest and most eloquent writer, crafted the original draft document (as seen above). A total of 86 changes were made to his draft and the Continental Congress officially adopted the final version on July 4, 1776.
The following day, copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed, and on July 6, The Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper to print the extraordinary document. The Declaration of Independence has since become our nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty.
Bonfires and Illuminations
On July 8, 1776, the first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square to the ringing of bells and band music. One year later, on July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence Day by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and fireworks.
The custom eventually spread to other towns, both large and small, where the day was marked with processions, oratory, picnics, contests, games, military displays and fireworks. Observations throughout the nation became even more common at the end of the War of 1812 with Great Britain.
In June of 1826, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to Roger C. Weightman, declining an invitation to come to Washington, D.C. to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was the last letter that Jefferson, who was gravely ill, ever wrote. In it, Jefferson says of the document:
“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be … the signal of arousing men to burst the chains … and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. …For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
– Thomas Jefferson
June 24, 1826 Monticello
Congress established Independence Day as a holiday in 1870, and in 1938 Congress reaffirmed it as a paid holiday for federal employees. Today, communities across the nation mark this major midsummer holiday with parades, firework displays, picnics and performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and marches by John Philip Sousa.
Photo of the “original Rough draught” of the Declaration of Independence courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The History of the American Flag
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed an act establishing an official flag for the new nation. The resolution stated: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” On Aug. 3, 1949, President Harry S. Truman officially declared June 14 as Flag Day.
The history of our flag is as fascinating as that of the American Republic itself. It has survived battles, inspired songs and evolved in response to the growth of the country it represents. The following is a collection of interesting facts and customs about the American flag and how it is to be displayed:
- The origin of the first American flag is unknown. Some historians believe it was designed by New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson and sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross.
- The name Old Glory was given to a large, 10-by-17-foot flag by its owner, William Driver, a sea captain from Massachusetts. Inspiring the common nickname for all American flags, Driver’s flag is said to have survived multiple attempts to deface it during the Civil War. Driver was able to fly the flag over the Tennessee Statehouse once the war ended. The flag is a primary artifact at the National Museum of American History and was last displayed in Tennessee by permission of the Smithsonian at an exhibition in 2006.
- Between 1777 and 1960 Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.
- Today the flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 Colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well; red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
- The National Museum of American History has undertaken a long-term preservation project of the enormous 1814 garrison flag that survived the 25-hour shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by British troops and inspired Francis Scott Key to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Often referred to by that name, the flag had become soiled and weakened over time and was removed from the museum in December 1998. This preservation effort began in earnest in June 1999, and continues to this day. The flag is now stored at a 10-degree angle in a special low-oxygen, filtered light chamber and is periodically examined at a microscopic level to detect signs of decay or damage within its individual fibers.
- There are a few locations where the U.S. flag is flown 24 hours a day, by either presidential proclamation or by law:
– Fort McHenry, National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland
– Flag House Square, Baltimore, Maryland
– United States Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia
– On the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts
– The White House, Washington, D.C.
– United States customs ports of entry
– Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
- After a British bombardment, amateur poet Francis Scott Key was so inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry that he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sept. 14, 1814. It officially became our national anthem in 1931.
- In 1892, the flag inspired James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy to write The Pledge of Allegiance. It was first published in a magazine called The Youth’s Companion.
On Distant Shores
- The first time the American flag was flown overseas on a foreign fort was in Libya, over Fort Derne, on the shores of Tripoli in 1805.
- In 1909, Robert Peary placed an American flag, sewn by his wife, at the North Pole. He also left pieces of another flag along the way. It is the only time a person has been honored for cutting the flag.
- In 1963, Barry Bishop placed the American flag on top of Mount Everest.
- In July 1969, the American flag was “flown” in space when Neil Armstrong placed it on the moon. Flags were placed on the lunar surface on each of six manned landings during the Apollo program.
Displaying the Stars and Stripes
- The flag is usually displayed from sunrise to sunset. It should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously. In inclement weather, the flag should not be flown.
- The flag should be displayed daily and on all holidays, weather permitting, on or near the main administration buildings of all public institutions. It should also be displayed in or near every polling place on election days and in or near every schoolhouse during school days.
- When displayed flat against a wall or a window, or in a vertical orientation, the “union” field of stars should be uppermost and to the left of the observer.
- When the flag is raised or lowered as part of a ceremony, and as it passes by in parade or review, everyone, except those in uniform, should face the flag with the right hand over the heart.
- The U.S. flag should never be dipped toward any person or object, nor should the flag ever touch anything beneath it.
Help Military Families
Every year, Independence Day serves as a reminder that our freedom is due to the service and sacrifices of the men and women of the Armed Forces. In the last 16 years, 2.5 million men and women have been deployed overseas, all serving voluntarily. They all face the challenges of military service: from multiple deployments that separate family members to recovering from the wounds of war.
If you need help, or want to give help, a good place to start is right here on our website, where you will find resources and organizations that help veterans and their families. Ideas and useful links are provided throughout this section, which offer various forms of assistance and support. Make a meaningful difference in the lives of our courageous military families, starting today.
With over 200 events a year, Blue Star Families is always in need of passionate volunteers. Blue Star Families’ wide range of programs include career development for military spouses, fun and educational events for children, caregiver support and most importantly, the chance to build community with their Blue Star Neighbors – individuals, business owners and organizations who create a network of support for military families. Learn more about different volunteer positions that are currently available.
Dedicated to 1st Lt Travis Manion, USMC, who made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of his patrol in 2007, The Travis Manion Foundation unites and strengthens communities of veterans and families of the fallen by training, developing, and highlighting each individual’s strengths as role models through programs, events and other training opportunities.
Housing presents special challenges for disabled veterans who require wheelchair accessibility or other adaptive measures. HFOT builds new mortgage-free homes for disabled veterans so that they, in turn, can build new lives. There are many ways to help HFOT including, acting as a fundraising volunteer, becoming a building partner or running a full or half-marathon with Team HFOT.
The HEADstrong Foundation offers a wide variety of support to cancer patients and their families. Through programs that offer nourishing meals and entertainment to patients, residential housing to the families who may be far from home while their loved one is pursuing a life-saving treatment, and financial aid and a relief fund program to help get through the financial hardships that may arise with a cancer diagnosis.
Team Red, White & Blue helps veterans increase their mental and physical health together as a team. Volunteers at local chapters offer fitness activities, social gatherings and community service events that help facilitate the building of strong local connections with other members and organizations within their communities.
Dog Tag Inc. (DTI) is a fellowship program for service-disabled, military spouses, and caregivers who are looking to find community outside of the military. This five month fellowship offers learning labs and a more holistic, wellness-oriented approach to finding personal and professional fulfillment in the civilian world.
The National Military Family Association was founded in 1969 by a group of military wives who wanted to make sure their widowed friends were properly taken care of. Today, they continue their now wide range of support through a multitude of resources and programs including a Spouse Scholarship program, and Operation Purple which offers a children’s camp, family retreats, healing adventures and buddy camp.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has many ways to volunteer time or donate funds to help our nation’s veterans, including the Volunteer Transportation Network, Welcome Home Events, Stand Down for Homeless Veterans, National Cemeteries Volunteer, National Salute to Veteran Patients and Student Volunteer Program initiatives.
Dog Tag Brewing and Gold Star Families
Committed to honoring and celebrating the lives and legacy of fallen military service members, Dog Tag Brewing works with Gold Star Families to create dedication cans to raise awareness for the fallen and continue their legacy. More than that, Dog Tag Brewing also provides grants to legacy-building initiatives and broad-spectrum training and mentoring programs.
Veterans Coming Home, a campaign to bridge the civilian-military divide through public media, has teamed up with nonprofit partners to aggregate a wealth of resources for active military service members, veterans and their families. Find assistance with everything from healthcare to healing through the arts.
This organization seeks to lift morale by sending individually addressed letters and care packages to deployed service members, veterans, the wounded and their caregivers.
This foundation currently has seven programs serving defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need. R.I.S.E. provides adaptive homes and vehicles, and wheel/track chairs; Lt. Dan Band lifts morale for service members at home and abroad; Resiliency + Relief Outreach is for those recovering from trauma and in urgent need; Invincible Spirit Festivals are family celebrations held at military medical hospitals; the Ambassadors Council raises awareness; and Serving Heroes feeds service members in transit at major airports. The foundation supports numerous charities as well.
The Military and Veterans Crisis Line
Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for veterans in crisis and their families and friends. If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of emotional distress, including thoughts of suicide, immediate help is available by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1).Confidential help is also available in a chat online, or by sending a text message to 838255.
For additional information on organizations offering services and support for troops, military families and veterans, visit the non-profit Charity Navigator.