As America celebrates its 237th birthday, some big names intend to help.
Several networks will hold to tradition Thursday, July 4, by offering star-studded Independence Day specials with an emphasis on music.
On PBS (check local listings), Barry Manilow will return to "A Capitol Fourth" as he joins fellow music icon Neil Diamond, former "Smash" co-star Megan Hilty, award-winning composer-conductor John Williams, " American Idol" winners Candice Glover and Scotty McCreery, Darren Criss ( "Glee"), "America's Got Talent" alum Jackie Evancho, the National Symphony Orchestra, and host Tom Bergeron on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
"America's Got Talent" also will be represented on NBC, as Nick Cannon -- that contest's host -- presides again over "Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular" in New York, with the musical guests including someone he knows quite well: his wife, recent "American Idol" judge Mariah Carey. Taylor Swift, Cher, Tim McGraw, Pitbull and Selena Gomez also are on the bill.
And in a year that has seen Massachusetts' capital deal with unexpected challenges, CBS is opting not to air the traditional "Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular" nationally, though the network's local Boston affiliate still will carry the event.
Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award winner Manilow has a huge catalog to draw from, with "Copacabana" always a particular crowd pleaser. While he plans to deliver a good dose of his hits on "A Capitol Fourth" -- much as he's doing in his touring show "Manilow on Broadway" -- he says he'll be especially pleased to render the clearly patriotic "Let Freedom Ring," which he wrote with his longtime collaborators Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman.
"I worked with the guy who hits the button to set off the fireworks," Manilow tells Zap2it of performing the tune on "A Capitol Fourth" in 2009. "I wanted him to hit it on the last key change, so I gave him a video of me doing the song, and he'd already heard it and studied it. And right on the 'let' of 'Let freedom ring,' he hit that button, and I felt the ground shake!
"Those fireworks went right up on the downbeat. I didn't see them because they were behind me, but I knew because the audience just started to shriek and scream; what they were seeing was what they were there for. With this song and that orchestra, it was a thrilling moment. I thought, 'Well, another 15 years, and they'll wheel me out, and I'll do it again.' And surprisingly enough, they've asked me to do it again only four years later."
Having been a fan of NBC's now-finished "Smash," Manilow is glad to be sharing the stage with Broadway veteran Hilty, who opened "A Capitol Fourth" last year and says with a laugh that she "can't stay away" from the occasion ... or its city.
"It was totally nerve-racking" last year, she admits, "but it's kind of a home away from home for me now. My boyfriend and I have been to Washington something like five times in the past year, so I think it'll be maybe a little easier this time. And I'm a big 'Fanilow,' so I'm really excited to get to work with him."
Five-time Oscar winner Williams is yet another "A Capitol Fourth" returnee, having led an Olympic tribute a year ago, and his 2003 appearance was especially memorable since he received the National Artistic Achievement Award during the show. Coming back to the show for executive producer Jerry Colbert soon after creating his Academy Award-nominated score for "Lincoln," one of his many projects with director Steven Spielberg, is quite meaningful for him.
" Walter Miller has been the producer of the event probably since its inception," Williams says, "and he's not only a legend himself in this field but also a very good friend of mine. I see him fairly frequently, and he knows how much I have enjoyed being connected with this program. I've also known the National Symphony Orchestra for many years, and I've always enjoyed working with them greatly, particularly during Leonard Slatkin's 10 years (as music director)."
Though Williams conducted it in Baltimore and Boston recently, the "Lincoln" music hasn't had many live performances, and the appropriateness of showcasing it on "A Capitol Fourth" pleases him greatly.
"Joining me," he reports, "will be Christopher Martin, the principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony, and he's a fabulous artist and a great young man. He played the trumpet solos in the film and was featured on the soundtrack, so Walter and I felt this would be a wonderful occasion to present him as a soloist. That will be another treat, certainly for me. It'll be great to see and hear him again."
On the "Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular," Cannon will be happy to introduce spouse Carey. "Oh, it's a great day for my whole family," the friendly personality maintains. "When we can both be a part of something, that really makes it special. We've done things like this quite a few times, whether it's the Fourth of July or Christmas or President Obama's first inauguration."
Independence Day actually has been a special time in the Cannon household "since I've been married for the last five years," he says. "We go away and see fireworks and dress up. I get dressed up like Uncle Sam. We take every holiday and try to be as festive as possible, so be able to do that in front of all of America is outstanding."
Photo/Video credit: PBS