It's a 25-year-old concert with (among others) a 17-year-old star

Each summer, two of TV's best music events are big and outdoors and don't need to hand out any awards. Those are concerts on the Capitol lawn on the 4th of July and on the eve of Memorial Day. Now the latter has its 25th concert ... which makes it eight years older than one of its stars, Danielle Bradbery. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Back in 1989, war seemed like the distant past and soldiers
seemed invisible.

“I felt like there was nothing going on in this country on
Memorial Day,” recalled Jerry Colbert, a TV producer known for “A Capitol
Fourth.”  So he launched a new PBS
concert on the Capitol lawn.

Now – in a very different time – the 25th
National Memorial Day Concert is Sunday, mixing emotional stories with music
from Jennifer Nettles, Megan Hilty, Jackie Evancho, Anthony Kearns and two
reality-show winners – the new one from “American Idol” and Danielle Bradbery
from last year’s “The Voice.”

These singers have little in common except strong voices.
“When you get 300,000 people on the lawn, you’d better be able to project,”
Colbert said.

They range from country to classical to Broadway, some of
them much younger than the event itself. Bradbery is 17, Evancho is 14. “These
are little girls who can belt beautifully,” Colbert said.

He means “little.” At 5-foot-3, Bradbery stood in the shadow
of “Voice” coach, Blake Shelton, 6-foot-5. “The first time I saw him, from far
away, I thought, ‘Oh, he’s not that tall,’” she said. “Then I got close.”

This is what reality competitions are about – big-time opportunity
confronting total newcomers. Before entering “The Voice,” Bradbery said, she’d
hadn’t performed anywhere, not even school choirs.

“I’ve always been in love with music and singing,” she said.
“Every time I came home from school, I’d go to my room and sing for hours.”
That was in a Houston suburb; eventually, her parents – a Halliburton executive
and a hairdresser – nudged her to the “Voice” auditions.

On March 25, 2013, the teen who had never sung for a crowd was
singing to four stars. Three of them -- Shelton, Adam Levine and Usher --
pursued her. “I always thought I’d be on Team Blake,” she said. “But then I
started to think, ‘Let’s hear what everyone has to say.’”

Her choice of Shelton turned out well. “On- or off-camera, he’s
always making everyone laugh,” she said. At 16 and a high school sophomore, she
was the show’s fourth champion and Shelton’s third.

The swirl began – the promotional song (“My Day”) for NBC’s
Winter Olympics coverage … an album that reached No. 5 on Billboard’s country
chart, with a single (“Heart of Dixie”) at No. 16 … and two tours, all while
switching her high school studies to Online.

The first tour was with Brad Paisley and Chris Young, the
current one with Hunter Hayes and Dan + Shay, a show ranging in age only from
17 to 26. “We’re all young and the crowd is nothing but screaming.”

At the PBS concert, there will be less screaming. Many of
the songs – including “I Will Never Forget You,” from Bradbery’s album – will be
serious; so will the stories told in between.

Less than two weeks before the 70th anniversary of
D-Day, the show will introduce some of the men (now in their 90s) who scaled an
Omaha Beach cliff, against intense gunfire.

It will also introduce John Peck, a quadruple amputee from
the Iraq war who has found a new life … and Ruth Stonesifer, whose son and his
longtime friend were the first U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. These are
stories and wars never imagined during that first telecast in 1989.

“National Memorial Day Concert”

8 p.m. Sunday (actually Memorial Day eve), PBS

Many stations will rerun it at 9:30; check local