National Memorial Day Concert: Behind the Scenes

Photo by Rachel Levitin

Each year, PBS presents the National Memorial Day Concert live from the National Mall. The show features some of the top musical acts in the nation and around the world. This year’s show had special meaning to the production crew, performers, veterans, active soldiers, and all Americans due to the recent capture of Osama Bin Laden.

The 2011 program shown on Sunday evening commemorated the tenth anniversary of September 11. The show was also a “thank you” to our troops who have been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families in addition to being a tribute to our World War II veterans on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

A few of the musical acts including American Idol winner Kris Allen, word renowned classical vocalist Hayley Westenra and Grammy award winner Yolanda Adams took a few moments to speak with We Love DC in between their rehearsal sets the day before the live show. The west lawn of the Capitol played the perfect backdrop  to an event unique to the District and the performers involved were more than grateful for being an active part of this live tribute to our Armed Forces.

Photo by Rachel Levitin

Four-time Grammy award winner Yolanda Adams has been a part of the program four times now. Adams is a passionate advocate for our service men and women and knows her life would not be the same had it not been for their daily dedication to America and their time at war.

“I think that each yeah that I have done this it has been absolutely life changing for me,” Adams said. “I have always supported anything that has to do with our soldiers and our armed forces and their wives and children but I think this year is more powerful.”

Adams urged all American to remember the opportunities given to us as citizens during this Memorial Day weekend as a way to say thanks to the troops.

“I was given a chance because of the men who went to serve in the Armed Forces during all of these wars before us,” Adams said, “and although we think it doesn’t affect us here at home, it always affects us at home because one child out of ten children in our public schools, they have a mother, a father or a relative in the armed forces.”

Pictured: Hayley Westenra // Photo by Rachel Levitin

24 year-old Hayley Wetenra of New Zealand was also humbled by being able to participate in this particular program. She had previously been a performer for the Fourth of July concert also hosted on the National Mall but Westenra agreed that the 9/11 commemoration would be a little different.

“I think that this is definitely going to be a more emotional night for everyone,” Westenra said. “Everyone has sort of a connection to the troops, you know, be it a friend or a family member and so I think this concert will be touching everyone.”

Westenra’s not being American did not distract her from the task at hand. To her, the intimate nature of Washington and the seriousness of the singing task in front of her was of dire importance. “It’s just a great honor to be invited,” she said. “To sing […] I hope that I can […] help people connect […] or relate some emotions with the performance [as a thank you to the soldiers].”

Pictured: Kirs Allen and his band // Photo by Rachel Levitin

American Idol winner Kris Allen was also in attendance as a performer. Allen is no stranger to Washington, either. He has been to town before and has enjoyed his time here, including doing a five mile run around town instead of a standard walking tour and hanging out at the same places Abe Lincoln did.

Allen didn’t perform on the main stage, but instead got the opportunity to sing on a smaller intimate stage with the Capitol as the backdrop. Allen’s song for the evening? Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

“It’s such an iconic song,” Allen said, “[…] and everybody that I know that lives in America knows the song, so I cannot wait to actually sing it. I think it’s just going to feel so powerful and really awesome.”

The National Memorial Day Concert aired live Sunday evening from the National Mall. For clips and interviews from the live show, please visit the program’s website.

Rachel moved to DC in the fall of 2005 to study Journalism and Music at American University. When she’s not keeping up with the latest Major League Baseball news, she works on making music as an accomplished singer-songwriter and was even a featured performer/speaker at TEDxDupont Circle in 2012. Rachel has also contributed to The Washington Examiner and MASN Sports’ Nationals Buzz as a guest blogger. See why she loves DC. E-Mail:

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5 thoughts on “National Memorial Day Concert: Behind the Scenes

  1. I went to the dress rehearsal for this and it was absolutely fantastic. Not a bad performance. The PBS airing cut off the finale, which was unfortunate. If people are interested, I’ve posted some videos at

  2. I’ve searched for a clip of B. B. King’s crude comments about not serving in WW II, together with “they” told him he had “big feet”, but he would never court the ladies of serviceman overseas, wink, wink! Wonder why everyone’s looking the other way rather than condemning such disrespectful, low-class comments undeserving of an audience of veterans, wounded veterans and their families?

  3. Re L. White:
    It appeared to me and others watching that B.B. King’s indiscretions did not end with his comments. After singing his first number, he launched into another, which may or may not have been scripted, and then attempted rather unsuccessfully to whip the audience into action with a demeanor indicating that this gig was all about himself, as if just another BB concert. It was wholly and glaringly inappropriate for the occasion, and resulted in an awkward moment during which his microphone appeared to have been silenced as cameras and sound once again returned to one of the co-hosts.

  4. Kris should have sung on the main stage. His attitude toward this nation and our military is honorable, noteworthy and exemplary. He’s the kind of example that should be looked to as we try and shape the youth of America; there thinking and reasoning as it relates to the honor and majesty that has been so much a part of this nation and its development.

  5. Rick Tingle, you’re right about Kris, but he sang where he did as part of the ‘welcome home” segment of the concert – he wasn’t being slighted!He and his band performed there so he could intereact with servicemen and women during his song. It was one of the best parts of the entire concert. Later he was part of the finale on the main stage.