Sunday, July 4, 2004

Kunzel recounts most memorable July 4th moments

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Pops maestro Erich Kunzel has conducted patriotic concerts in Washington for more than 25 years, including Labor Day and Memorial Day. He has led the nationally televised July Fourth concerts at the U.S. Capitol for 15 summers.

Most meaningful guest: Secretary of State Colin Powell. "He's my hero, and he helped me start the Memorial Day concerts. He was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and we've become very good friends. He was my guest every year until he became secretary of state."

Song that made the crowd go nuts: "Ray Charles, who sang 'America the Beautiful.' "

Close second: "We had (flutist) James Galway with the Chieftains, and everybody was doing jigs."

Guest artists hall of fame: Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney ("I always asked her to sing 'God Bless America' "), Dolly Parton, Vince Gill (this year), Tom Hanks (on Memorial Day), Cab Calloway, violinist Joshua Bell, opera diva Renee Fleming.

Highest-ranking military guest: "It's a four-star general every year." This year, it's Gen. Richard B. Myers, 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Near-disaster: "It could have been a horrible disaster, but I'll never forget the first time Colin (Powell, secretary of state) spoke. We have a monitor with the speeches on it. About one minute into the speech, his went blank. Just went pfffff. He knew it almost word-for-word, and kept right on going."

Most notable: "Every year, the Fourth of July concert is the biggest audience for PBS all year. It's the one time of the year that PBS outnumbers the other national networks."

(In 2003, A Capitol Fourth had nearly 12 million viewers.)

Kunzel's top 10

There are three ingredients to a great patriotic song, according to Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel.

"It has to be singable; you have to be able to remember the tune - and it has to have meaning," he says. "You take those things, and you've got a great song.

Here are Kunzel's top 10 patriotic hits:

1 "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (John Philip Sousa's 150th birthday is this year)

2 "America the Beautiful"

3 "God Bless America"

4 "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor"

The Armed Forces Songs:

5 U.S. Coast Guard: "Semper Paratus" (Always Ready)

6 Air Force: "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder"

7 Navy: "Anchors Aweigh"

8 Marines: "The Marines' Hymn"

9 Army: "The Caisson Song"

10 "Let There Be Peace on Earth"

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