The “Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular” and PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth” provided plenty of patriotic pleasure this Independence Day for TV viewers who were not able to brave the stifling heat or the insect barrage this holiday. Both specials added special touches to make their offerings uniquely apropos in light of the nation's continuing trend toward political divide. Regardless of political party, music unites people and enables them to put aside differences as they sing familiar choruses.

The current president may not know all the words to “God Bless America,” but last night, children coast to coast were jubilantly joining in on those verses, and the song rang out from those huddled near the Hudson to the Capitol rotunda.

In these days of TV on demand, offering something for everyone can be a driving factor. The “Macy's 4th of July” had the big names and chart-toppers. “A Capitol Fourth” kept with its more reserved tradition, and paid homage to the heroism of the real military members filling the West lawn of the Capitol, and spreading to the other national landmarks.

Kelly Clarkson came through with a flourish in her tailored dark blue dress, and she dazzled, hitting her incredible notes. Her special rendition of “God Bless America” accompanied by the West Point military band and glee club toward the end of the NBC presentation was one of the memorable standouts.

American Authors also came to the stage for live entertainment, while cutaways to the concert stages were done for Blake Shelton, Ricky Martin, and Keith Urban.

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These performers are definitely dynamic, but apart from “Happy Fourth Of July!” to their crowds, little observance was given to Independence Day or its meaning.

In his opening words as returning host for “A Capitol Fourth,” John Stamos became emotional, speaking directly to his infant son and his wife, recalling his own father's words about freedom and democracy, and the responsibility of living in America. The words were heartfelt and heavy with the impetus of the current immigration dilemma.

Glitz vs. earned honor

Seeing Ricky Martin perform “Livin' La Vida Loca” was a fun romp, and of course, the ladies in his audience went wild. The showmanship fell short compared to the simple, solo voice of opera singer Renée Fleming offering “You'll Never Walk Alone," a tribute to military families taking the stage in Washington, with some mothers and fathers in wheelchairs. The moment was a complete release from the turmoil within the buildings behind them.

The real families all sprawled on the grass were treated to a set by the Temptations, who still had all their moves through decades in the music business. They topped off their set with “My Girl,” and just about everyone sang along. “American Idol” favorite and 2018 ACM New Female Vocalist of the Year, Lauren Alaina, performed her hit, “Road Less Traveled,” about life's hard choices, backed by an all-female drum corps.

Marking a milestone

Both “Macy's 4th of July” and “A Capitol Fourth” took note of the 100th anniversary of “God Bless America,” and, in addition to Kelly Clarkson's new rendition, the NBC special opted for live music throughout the entire 29 minutes of fireworks, which are always unparalleled in their grandeur. The West Point musicians and singers stayed spot-on in their delivery, despite the skies of smoke. Real human voices always outshine any digital music loop.

Another spellbinding performance of “A Capitol Fourth” was provided by violin virtuoso Joshua Bell. He brought a splendid and spirited “Yankee Doodle Dandy” with the energy of a classical rock star, and riveted the entire audience. His finger-picking wizardry was inspiring.

Pentatonix warmed up the audience’s voices with a cappella harmonies. Jimmy Buffett performed along with the cast of his Broadway show, and he and John Stamos joined in with the Beach Boys for a few favorites. Stamos has been a regular touring member of the band for years. Andy Grammer was accompanied by the Ministers of Music choral ensemble on “Back Home" as well.

Both “Macy's 4th of July” and “A Capitol Fourth” have worthy and rich Independence Day traditions and followings. On this particular fourth, one came off like a glamorous night out, a spectacle, and the other was a night of honor and involvement.

Gospel great CeCe Winans performed “God Bless America” in Washington, following tributes to Leonard Bernstein by Chita Rivera onstage and John Williams via pre-taped piece. The performance was uplifting and appropriate, purely from the heart on a day when it is never a distraction to be a flag-waving, song-singing patriot. Fireworks signaled the end of the night, with Jack Everly leading the National Symphony Orchestra in the “Overture of 1812.”

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