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Celebrating 25 Years, Keith Lockhart on Headliners for Pops Fourth of July Spectacular

by Sam Cronin
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday May 22, 2019

Keith Lockhart has been conducting Boston Pops Fourth of July Spectacular for the past 25 years since taking over the orchestra from John Williams. The event, which takes place at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, is likely the most popular classical concert of the year in the United States, watched by more than 500,000 who gather along the banks of the Charles and by millions more on television. (This year the event will be broadcast on Bloomberg Television.)

Today the Pops announced the talent line-up for the event, which include Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Queen Latifah, musical icon Arlo Guthrie, 16-year-old vocal phenomenon Amanda Mena and the the three-time Emmy Award-winning classical crossover vocal trio, the Texas Tenors. Both Mena and the Texas Tenors may be familiar to audiences from their appearances on "America's Got Talent."

In addition to the guests, the orchestra — considered the leading classical music ensemble in the United States — will perform orchestral selections ending with the annual performance of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and a mammoth fireworks display above the Charles.

EDGE spoke to Lockhart recently about the talent and the concert.

Why Queen Latifah?

EDGE: Why was Queen Latifah such a good fit for the Fourth of July Spectacular?

Keith Lockhart: This isn't the first time we've tried to get her... There's always been a logistical issue of one sort or another, so we're thrilled that this finally came through.

I worked with Queen Latifah the first time the spring of 2017 and was just blown away. I knew of her as an actress, you know, and a singing actress even in movies like "Chicago," and knew of her career as a rapper, but I had never really heard her sing, and somebody laid a CD of her doing standards on me and I was just blown away. She was amazing onstage with the orchestra — she's got incredible energy. Audiences just ate out of the palm of her hand. I think she's the kind of big personality artist that's just perfect for the Fourth of July.

EDGE: What will she be singing this year?

Keith Lockhart: We're in repertoire discussions with the artists as we speak. We'll know that about halfway through June, I suspect.

Arlo's back

EDGE: Arlo Guthrie will also be appearing as part of this year's concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Was he chosen in remembrance of the seminal concert?

Keith Lockhart: Arlo is the only artist whom I've ever worked with on the Fourth twice. He appeared with us in 2001 and was amazing then... brought the house down. This year we've been working with him again, because we've been paying tribute in our spring season here in Symphony hall to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and the moon landing. It's so cool to actually have a working relationship with someone who was there. The reason he's there is to allow us to lift a lighter in the direction of Woodstock.

He's such a great storyteller — a raconteur. He's one of those people who walks out on stage and people instantly lean forward and listen to what he has to say. World's nicest guy too, and fellow MA resident.

EDGE: You've also got two amazing artists who've appeared on "America's Got Talent": Amanda Mena and The Texas Tenors. Coincidence?

Keith Lockhart: Funny thing is it's totally coincidental they have anything to do with America's Got Talent, cause that's not how we found them. Amanda Mena is a local girl... an amazing talent. She came to us by... every year we have a young artists competition with Fidelity where the winners can be from any kind of genre... Amanda won that competition this year. She's performing with us in Symphony Hall. Then we found out she had done all these other things, and that she had advanced so far not only in America's Got Talent but in the Spanish language version of The Voice and we said 'Wow, one of the fun things about the Fourth of July, especially for the hometown crowd, is to debut somebody local who's on the verge of great things and she's just amazing.'

The Texas Tenors... they're good. They're the highest ranking group that every made it in America's Got Talent. And they're really straight down the middle, red-white-and-blue patriotic, which is part of what this celebration is all about and I think they just balance out the program really nicely."

What makes this year unique?

EDGE: On the topic of that red-white-and-blue Fourth of July fever, what do you enjoy most about this special time of year and these concerts.

Keith Lockhart: I think it's just the fact that, for that one shining several-hour stretch that an orchestra is central to people's celebrations and people's lives. The fact that we're the centerpiece of a celebration that a half-million people take actual physical part in, let alone the people who watch it. It's really kind of awe-inspiring and it's really a position of honor and we try to make sure that every year people have a reason to wanna come back."

EDGE: This is your 25th year of conducting this Fourth of July Spectacular. Looking back do you have any special memories you want to reflect on?

Keith Lockhart: Some of the memories are about particular July Fourth's just because of when they happened. The July Fourth of 2002 which is the first one after 9/11 felt very significant and it felt like we had an important role to play in kind of people pulling back together. Every year has its own challenges. This year has its own challenges too, so each year we just try to provide, we try to be a Fourth of July celebration for all Americans, that people can really feel a part of, and we try to be as inclusive an event as possible. We try to honor the principles on which this country was built. We try to find a slightly different way to do that every year.

EDGE: What's going to make this year's concert unique?

Keith Lockhart: I think one thing is the diversity of the musical acts we have. We have such a diverse audience on this concert. We have little kids and we've got grandparents, we got everybody in between and we got people [from] all walks of life and all racial backgrounds and everything, and we try to make sure that what's on the stage reflects America and I think that we have a concert that does that really well.

The Boston Pops Fourth of July Spectacular takes place on July 4 at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. For more information, visit the Boston Pops website.


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