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Sounds of Liberty: Bicentennial Memories
In the mid-1970s, when it was still acceptable for public school students to love their country, I was in a small singing group called Sounds of Liberty formed by my high-school choir director. It was, of course, organized for the occasion of the nation’s bicentennial. My audition to be included in the troupe featured not only singing but flute-playing and tap-dancing. All talents were on call. We were putting on a show.
As I recall, we performed locally and on school-break tours for a year and a half or so, ending on 7/4/1976. We had three costume changes for the three segments: one on religious music (I sang a solo of “Ave Maria”), one on regional songs (I did a tap dance to “The Sidewalks of New York”), and one on patriotic tunes (or so I think it must have been; can’t remember what I played the flute to).
The bicentennial was such a big deal. I remember being a little steamed that I had been born one year too late to be in the Class of 1976; 1977 just didn’t have the same ring. But being in Sounds of Liberty made me feel part of it somehow, however long-forgotten our endeavors might now be. Since we played a lot of old folks’ homes, there may actually be no audience members left to remember.
If you’re old enough to have participated in America’s landmark birthday blowout, do you have any warm bicentennial memories for us to huddle around now that there’s such a chill over freedom and liberty and patriotism? And can you imagine what sort of celebration will greet the tricentennial? Will there even be one? Will it mark a great renewal of patriotic fervor? Or will some poor kid have to tap-dance to the latest socialist dirge?Published in Group Writing
I remember Hands Across America. I still know the song.
Do you remember the Bicentennial wagon train?
I don’t! But I was in Southern California, and I’m guessing this was not?
I remember seeing boats on TV spraying water, and ringing the bell outside our house as a designated time.
I was only 6, so fuzzy.
I was 20 years old in 1976.
I recall that red, white, and blue / stars and stripes decor was EVERYWHERE. Every business competed with all the others to see which could have the most patriotic displays and advertisements.
To watch the town fireworks show that year (which was to be far larger than the normal Fourth of July fireworks show), some friends and I found a small hill behind the launch site so we could watch the launch process and admire some really big launch canons.
I was 8, but I remember there was a wagon from each state, and it passed through Oklahoma City at some point. I was totally into it, and made my own construction paper wagon train. Surely my folks in the States have pics.
Mom made me a Bicentennial themed birthday cake that year too.
Yes, I also recall the Parade of Ships from the Bicentennial on TV. It was probably the most lasting of my memories from that year.
10 years later, I got to witness another parade of tall ships up the Hudson, celebrating the centennial of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. This time in person from the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Also the fireworks over NY Harbor. Just fantastic.
I was four and remember being on a number floats. I think every town had a parade and staggered them so each town could celebrate that summer. I remember a guy dressed up as Uncle Sam and one or two other kids my age on the float. Maybe we were to represent the beginning of the nation. Also remember petting a horse at the staging point for one of the parades. Not many clear memories of that year.
Edit: To clarify. I was on the same float in a number of parades. A lot of small, rural towns in northern Kansas and southern Nebraska since we were close to the Nebraska border.
Terri, as your senior by a year, our yearbook editor (and my wife) chose to make the Bicentennial the theme for our class. A Full 16 pages of a color spread mixture of some of the iconic sights of Washington DC (mainly my pictures, I was the school photographer) interspersed with patriotic images that occurred during the year). Some thought it was a bit kitschy at the time (hey it was echos of the boomer’s everything’s ironic ethos).
However now it seems wistfully nostalgic. I am thinking I miss, and coming to appreciate more of the old “America Love it or Leave it” slogan of that time. If you think somewhere else is your utopia, apply for citizenship elsewhere and stop breaking what was a better running society.
Perfect no, but certainly not this destructive Alinsky itch that seem to be preoccupying the left today.
Yes. This is the kind of thing I was annoyed about missing as the Class of 1977. You guys got all the good iconic memorial patriotic packaging, and we were back to the standard-issue yearbook stuff.
It does seem impossibly nostalgic now, and impossible to imagine schools (and businesses, and culture institutions) giving themselves over to such rapturous flag-waving. Make fun of the ’70s all you like, but we knew how to throw a party.
I spent 6 weeks of our bicentennial summer at ROTC summer camp at Fort Bragg, NC.
I wonder if there will be a big bash for 250 years, a quarter of a millennium, in 2026?
I expect the answer is yes.
I would hope so, but my expectations are low. I suspect we would have heard something about the planning, etc., by now. The fact that we haven’t leads me to believe it won’t happen.
At the moment, I’d more expect to see a big bashing of America, with progressives using the occasion to trumpet all its alleged sins.
But let’s see … we have a little less than four years until 2026. Maybe with a red wave, a change of presidents, and a general repudiation of progressivism, we might be in a national mood for a proper party.
Too much Howard Zinn and 1619 infecting a generation or two.
Gotta admit, I barely remember that event even though it went through my city. It’s hard to imagine anything remotely like this happening now. It also would have been hard to envision the destructive changes that have occurred in the subsequent decades. I dare say no one of the time could have predicted the current sorry state of affairs.
A lot will be local/organic and will be pretty cool.
Here’s a flavor of the official national celebration – https://www.america250.org/story/
We had someone from the New York City Ballet come and teach us George Balanchine’s choreography for Hershey Kay’s Stars and Stripes. I don’t remember her name, probably on purpose because she was a brutal taskmaster. We performed once in late March or early April as part of a larger program. Edward Villella came in to dance the lead male role, “El Capitan.” I was able to meet him at a party given by family friends and he was so gracious, and so handsome! He said he noticed me because I was the only one who stayed in a formal pose during the curtain calls (which I did because that was how I was taught–you are in character until you are off stage).
This snippet from the Wikipedia article linked above gives a really good assessment of how it felt…and yes, we had the flag.
Here is a highlight of that end moment from the Washington Ballet. For a fourteen year old girl to be able to participate was wonderful, and every time I hear that finale I want to get up and do this.
How cool! What an amazing thing to get to do.
That piece of music was my flute-playing nemesis, because I realized early on I was never, ever going to be able to nail that piccolo part. But it certainly does make you want to stand up and salute the flag. And maybe pirouette.
I almost vomited
Yeah, that’s what I expected if there were anything “official.” No wonder this effort hasn’t been promoted.
It depends on who is President . . .
Democrats will all hate America by then
Hands across America was in the 1980s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hands_Across_America
I spent the 4th of July 1976 in a dry camp in the backcountry at Philmont Scout Ranch. I had just finished 8th grade.
In 1995 a friend and I went to Cape Kennedy to see a Space Shuttle launch. We were on the causeway about 6 miles or so from the pad. I had my telescope along for viewing. We were chatting up some cute girls while we were waiting, and one of them asked what the symbol painted on the side of the Vehicle Assembly Building was. We told them it was the Bicentennial symbol, and they asked what the bicentennial was. We said, “you know, 1976, 200 years after the Declaration of Independence. It was a big deal.” One of them said, “oh, I wasn’t even born until 1977.”
I think that was the first time in my life I felt old.
Also, entirely unrelated, the Israeli raid on Entebbe to rescue hijacked airline passengers was on July 4th, 1976.
The Milwaukee Road railroad had a Bicentennial locomotive painted up in Red White and Blue for a few years.
In the late 1990s when I lived in West Allis, my next-door neighbor’s father had worked in the locomotive shop at the time. He had a model engine painted with the same paint – not just painted to look like it, painted with the actual paint that was used on the actual locomotive.
They tried to do a bash for the bicentennial of the Constitution in 1989, but it just sort of fizzled.
I love your talented story! I only remember playing an angel in a choir of angels in grade school and we had to sing “Born Free” – remember that from the movie with the lions? Haha! I had terrible stage fright but I was so into the costume I sang my heart out. We always had Christmas trees in the class rooms and Easter bunny posters in the windows. There was no word called politically correct and we had a very diverse school – Irish, Syrian, Ukrainian, Polish, Greek, Jewish, German, Italian and we never had an issue. Everyone played together and we celebrated all the holidays with dress ups, making decorations, and recited the Pledge.