National Anthem Project set for Patriot Hall

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Sumter's annual National Anthem Project will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday at Patriot Hall. The event sponsored by Sumter School District has taught people the words to the U.S. National Anthem for more than a decade.

Almost 13 years ago, Furman Middle School music teacher Linda Beck discovered that very few Americans over 18 knew the words to the national anthem. The National Music Educators Association, to which she belongs, was preparing a project in 2005 to encourage people to learn at least the first verse. Beck was struck by the fact that Sumter is home to Shaw Air Force Base and thus, thousands of servicemen and servicewomen. The community prides itself for its "Uncommon Patriotism."

Starting with Furman's student body, faculty and staff, she was determined to make sure they knew those words. From that beginning, the National Anthem Project has burgeoned into an area-wide program that involves all elements of the community from city and county government to businesses, the arts and especially Sumter School District, which has sponsored the project since it first began.

Beck continues to produce and direct the program each September, attracting a larger crowd each year.

"This is a wonderful event featuring over 300 Sumter middle and high school students" in a combined chorus, she said.

Deborah Horton, Crestwood High School director of choirs, will conduct the chorus and will also sing "God Bless the USA," with the students singing along on the chorus. Crestwood High alumna Cierra Stewart will sing "America the Beautiful," and the Sumter School District middle and high school chorus will sing "Count the Cost," "A Salute to the Armed Forces," "Let Freedom Ring" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" (the national anthem).

Retired Master Sgt. John F. Kennedy, Sumter School District liaison to Shaw Air Force Base, will speak and sing "God Bless America," as has become a tradition at the annual program.

Debbie Hamm, interim superintendent of Sumter School District, will open the program with a welcome to the community. Beck's mother, Bonnie Beck, will give the prayer, and representatives of the city and county will proclaim Sept. 21 National Anthem Day in Sumter.

Dancers from Miss Libby's School of Dance will perform to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," an iconic song from the World War II era.

Besides the singing of "Star-Spangled Banner," a highlight of the program will be a video made by Sumter School District's Shelly Galloway, social media and marketing coordinator. She has recorded various district students, teachers and staff, including Hamm, singing parts of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Representatives of the Ninth Air Force and U.S. Army Central (ARCENT), both headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, will speak.

The National Anthem Day Project will end with the combined choruses singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," as Sumter School District Junior ROTC honor guards present the colors.

Beck emphasized that there is no charge to attend the program.

"This is a wonderful event to begin the school year and for our community to see the talents and patriotism that we have here in Sumter," she said.