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A Capitol Fourth is a free annual concert performed on the west lawn of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., in celebration of Independence Day each July 4. Broadcast live on PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network and presented by WETA, the concert is viewed and heard by millions across the United States and the world, as well as attended by more than half a million people at the Capitol. The concert traditionally features elements of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the United States Army Presidential Salute Guns Battery, the U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own), the National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington, who provide much of the music during the show for various celebrity artists. A celebrity host and a variety of guests entertain and pay tribute to their country throughout the evening.
One journalist described the event as "a mix of patriotism and pop culture ... as the National Symphony Orchestra launched into Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with accompaniment from an Army artillery squad, a spectacular fireworks display erupted over the Washington Monument. There was something special about being in the nation's capital on Independence Day, surrounded by a few hundred thousand of our fellow citizens."
The National Symphony Orchestra began performing Independence Day concerts on the west lawn in 1979. Two years later, first concert telecast was hosted by E. G. Marshall, with conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and performer Pearl Bailey. It is now the highest-rated show on PBS.
Tony Danza has served as host twice, 1998  and 2007. Barry Bostwick hosted during several consecutive years prior to 2006, when Jason Alexander hosted. After Tony Danza's second time, Jimmy Smits hosted for the following four years. Tom Bergeron hosted from 2012 to 2014 and hosted again in 2016. Bradley Whitford served as host in 2015. John Stamos hosted in 2017 and 2018. Erich Kunzel was music director until his death in 2009. Jack Everly took over as music director.
Performers over the years have included Roberta Flack and Marvin Hamlisch (1987); Lee Ann Womack and Ray Charles (2000); John Williams, Dolly Parton and Kristin Chenoweth (2003); Robin Gibb and Clay Aiken (2004); Stevie Wonder (2006); Hayden Panettiere, Little Richard and Bebe Neuwirth (2007); Huey Lewis and the News, Taylor Hicks, Jerry Lee Lewis (2008); Aretha Franklin; Barry Manilow; Andrew von Oeyen; and the cast of Jersey Boys (2009); Gladys Knight, Lang Lang and Reba McEntire (2010); Jordin Sparks; Kelli O'Hara; Matthew Morrison; Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers Josh Groban, Little Richard and the cast of Million Dollar Quartet (2011); Megan Hilty, Phillip Phillips, Matthew Broderick, Kelli O’Hara, Javier Colón, Kool & the Gang, Apolo Ohno, John Williams (2012); and Williams, Hilty, Manilow, Neil Diamond, Jackie Evancho, Candice Glover, Scotty McCreery and the cast of Motown: The Musical (2013).
The 2017 performers included The Beach Boys (with Mark McGrath and host John Stamos, who played drums and guitar), The Four Tops, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi as The Blues Brothers, Kellie Pickler (her dress rehearsal performance was shown due to Pickler's illness), Trace Adkins, Yolanda Adams, Chris Blue, Sam Moore, Laura Osnes, and Sofia Carson, who performed the National Anthem.
The concert usually begins with the American national anthem by the National Symphony Orchestra who are accompanied by a recording artist. Following live entertainment, its finale begins with a rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture by the National Symphony Orchestra (complete with cannon fire from the United States Army Presidential Salute Guns Battery and the concluding verse sung by the Choral Arts Society of Washington) and the National Park Service's fireworks show above the Washington Monument. Following the 1812 Overture, a series of John Philip Sousa's best-known marches are played. The Temptations performed in 2018.
The National Artistic Achievement Award
The National Artistic Achievement Award has been presented on six occasions during the program for the performer's "dedication to enriching the national legacy of the performing arts":
- 2003: John Williams
- 2005: Gloria Estefan & Emilio Estefan
- 2006: Stevie Wonder
- 2010: Reba McEntire
- 2011: Josh Groban
- 2018: The Beach Boys
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- Yahr, Emily. "'A Capitol Fourth's broadcast reflects the new Americana: A reality TV parade of stars", The Washington Post, July 3, 2013
- "Creation of a National Institution", A Capitol Fourth, PBS, accessed July 12, 2013
- "Fired Up For The Fourth". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
- "PBS' 'A Capitol Fourth' — Hosted by Tony Danza — Airs July 4; Neuwirth Performs - Playbill". Playbill.
- "Watch Steve Martin Sizzle: Videos : Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers perform on US Capitol Lawn". PBS.org. 2011-07-04. Retrieved 2015-08-06.
- Gioia, Michael and Andrew Gans. "The Screening Room: Darren Criss, Megan Hilty, Jackie Evancho Perform on A Capitol Fourth" Archived July 8, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Playbill, July 5, 2013
- "A Capitol Fourth - 2017 Performers". PBS. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
- Gans, Andrew. "Jimmy Smits Hosts A Capitol Fourth; Reba McEntire, David Archuleta Perform" Archived July 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Playbill, July 4, 2010, accessed July 12, 2013