Sumter School District presents the 14th-annual National Anthem Day Project at 7 p.m. tonight in the Patriot Hall auditorium, 135 Haynsworth St.
Furman Middle School music teacher Linda Beck started the observance 14 years ago after discovering that only a few adult Americans knew the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner." That same year, 2005, the National Music Educators Association, of which she is a member, was working on a project to encourage Americans to learn the first verse.
Beck said at the time that seeing and hearing jets from Shaw Air Force Base pass over Furman reminded her and her students that Sumter is the home of thousands of servicemen and servicewomen. Also, she noted, Sumter's motto is "Uncommon Patriotism." So, she undertook to make sure Furman students, faculty and staff learned the words to the first verse. That led Beck, with the assistance of other music teachers in the district, to plan a special project to involve the entire Sumter community.
Sumter schools quickly got on board to sponsor a program that featured local students singing the National Anthem and city, county and Shaw AFB representatives speaking at the event. From that modest beginning, Sumter's National Anthem Project has grown into an annual event attended by hundreds, with both the county and city declaring National Anthem Day in Sumter on or around Sept. 14 each year.
Sumter School District's new superintendent, Dr. Penelope Martin Knox, will welcome those attending the program. Mayor Joseph McElveen will give the city's proclamation of National Anthem Day, and Sumter County Council will make a county proclamation. Shawn Ragin, a member of the school board, will have the prayer.
Beck said Stacy Taylor, a Furman High School graduate, will speak as a representative of the U.S. Army. After graduation, Beck said, "She went into the Air Force, then married into the Army."
As has become traditional, local government officials will speak, and elements from the community, including the arts, businesses and Sumter School District, will participate.
Beck said Miss Libby's dancers will perform to "Amazing Grace," and a video made by Shelly Galloway, executive director of communications and community engagement for Sumter School District, with excerpts from past National Anthem Projects will be screened.
"It's always fun to look back and see the students that were involved and how many of them are now adults in the work force yet still involved in music," Beck said.
"Anne Martin Galloway will sing 'Sumter is My Sweet Home,' and the students will sing back up," she added. "She is very excited, and we are also about having her sing this song. The kids love this song! (It was) written by Hank Martin, her brother."
In addition, about 300 students from Hillcrest, Ebenezer, Alice Drive Middle, Furman Middle, Sumter, Crestwood and Lakewood high schools will sing "Star-Spangled Banner." Crestwood choral director Deborah Horton will conduct the students.
The final speaker, John F. Kennedy, will also sing "God Bless America."
Beck said the colors will be presented by ROTCs from all three local high schools.
"As the late Gen. Tom Olsen said on year seven," Beck said, "National Anthem Day is now a tradition in Sumter. The event is free, and everyone is guaranteed a wonderful hour celebrating patriotism."
The National Anthem Project will be presented at 7 p.m. tonight at Patriot Hall, 135 Haynsworth St. The public is invited, and admission is free.
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