By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterJuly 10, 2012
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (July 10, 2012) -- The U.S. Army Blues collaborated with a Broadway great during Independence Day week, and the results were massive rhythms, blues and rhythm and blues.
Better known to many Americans as the character Chicken George from the 1970s television mini-series "Roots," entertainer and Tony Award winner Ben Vereen demonstrated some dance steps and voice range during a July 3 rehearsal with the U.S. Army Blues at Brucker Hall on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
In preparation for an Independence Day concert on the National Mall, the 65-year-old Vereen and the 18-piece band knocked out swing tunes like "This Joint is Jumpin'" and R & B favorite "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" nearly 30 hours before entertaining a holiday audience on one of America's biggest stages.
"Our show is based on Broadway," Vereen said about the musical selections he was preparing to perform. "There will be how many people on the Mall? A couple hundred thousand? So we can't exactly be doing ballads, can we? I don't think that will work. The show is celebratory of our country. There's some swing songs and some rock. You know, we got to do some rock, this is celebrating America's birthday."
Though he has sung with parts of "Pershing's Own" in the past, Vereen feels privileged to again sit on a stool during rehearsal and jam with the Soldiers.
"This is a high honor. This is a very high honor," Vereen said. "I respect these men and women so much. They make it possible for me to sleep good at night. To be with them and pay tribute to them is really an amazing thing. I love my military people. I've grown to respect them highly. A matter of fact, in my show, I ask my audiences to remember who they are and what they are doing for us."
Vereen's Washington, D.C., appearance with the U.S. Army Blues took place in the early evening of Independence Day at the Sylvan Theatre.