In many households (mine included), tuning into PBS’s live coverage of the annual Fourth of July concert, A Capitol Fourth, is an Independence Day tradition right up there with fireworks and large quantities of grilled food. Held annually on the West Lawn of Washington D.C.’s Capitol Building, the program brings together a bevy of musical acts, including popular recording artists and the musically-inclined branches of the military, to entertain crowds gathered there in person as well as on public television and radio via NPR. For this year’s 35th anniversary edition, A Capitol Fourth will welcome such performers as Barry Manilow, Nicole Scherzinger, and KC and the Sunshine Band. To get you in the patriotic spirit, we’ve combed through an incomplete, but still substantial YouTube collection of Capitol Fourth performances from the past two decades to assemble a July 4th playlist as a tuneful way to kick off your holiday weekend.
“Jackson,” Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash (July 4, 1993)
The grand couple of country music delivered a spirited rendition of a tune they originally recorded in 1967. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon effectively channeled Cash and Carter Cash for their cover version in the biopic Walk the Line, but there’s just no substitute for the real thing.
“Respect,” Aretha Franklin (July 4, 2002)
Aretha Frankline declares her independence, and demands some R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Take care, TCB), in her signature anthem. Thirty-five years after the song’s 1967 release, her voice still has the power to bring the crowd to their feet.
Clay Aiken (July 4, 2004)
A year after losing the American Idol crown to Ruben Studdard, future Congressional candidate Clay Aiken scored an Independence Day victory with a rousing three-song set that kicked off with “The Star Spangled Banner,” continued with “God Bless the U.S.A.” and ended with “Measure of a Man.” We bet that his one-time Congressional rival, Renee Ellmers, couldn’t hit those notes.
Jersey Boys (July 4, 2009) and Franki Valli (July 4, 2014)
The cast of the Tony-award winning Broadway show did justice to the hits of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons with a zippy medley of the group’s standards.
Kool & the Gang (July 4, 2013)
The R&B ensemble brings the funk to the Capitol, kicking off with a saxed-up version of “America the Beautiful” that segues into their longtime party favorite, “Celebration.”
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” Jackie Evancho (July 4, 2013)
The then-13-year-old classical singer wasn’t even born when Elton John’s Lion King hit first debuted on radio. But she performs it with the command of someone that’s been belting the tune for two decades. Now let’s hear her take on “Hakuna Matata.”
“The Star Spangled Banner,” John Williams (July 4, 2014)
What better way to get in the Independence Day spirit than with a version of the national anthem as arranged by the composer behind one of our favorite national pasttimes: Star Wars. Williams himself conducted the performance, celebrating the 200th anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner” in style.
A Capitol Fourth airs July 4 at 8 p.m. on PBS.