American Routes Shortcuts: American Roots Independence Day Revisited

Jul 3, 2020

American Roots Fourth of July Concert on the National Mall July 4, 1993
Credit National Council for the Traditional Arts

For the 4th of July, we've been digging in the archives for a series of live concerts between 1993-2001 in front of a million people annually on the National Mall from the Washington Monument to the White House fence, and millions more on public radio nationwide. It was the roots of American Routes. 



Nick Spitzer: I was lucky enough to serve as artistic director for the concerts, sometimes stage and radio host. We’ll hear the Staple Singers, Cajun music from Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, but first, from New Orleans, it’s the Original Tuxedo Brass Band.

(Music: “Do What You Wanna” Bob French and the Original Tuxedo Brass Band
American Roots Fourth of July Concert in Washington DC 2000 Original Recording)


NS: These shows connected pluralism, cultural resilience and hope through music. Let’s go to the stage July 4th 1994.


NS: (from stage) Well I hear that accordion warming up over there. The fiddle seems to be in tune. I see the t’fer there with Nelda Balfa. She’s got it in her hand. She’s got her nice white dress on. And the rest of these renegades seem to be about ready to roll. Are you ready for Cajun music? On dit en la Louisiane ...peu’ laissez le bons temps roulez? Oh they don’t all speak French out here. Well, enough people will understand the music I think. Let’s make them welcome, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys! 


(Music: “Bayou Noir/Back of Town Two-Step” Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
American Roots Fourth of July Concert in Washington DC 1994 Original Recording)


Mavis Staples: Hi, this is Mavis Staples. From New Orleans, it’s American Routes.  


NS: (from stage): It was well about 82 years ago, a man was born down on the Mississippi Delta. He grew up to be a holy blues man. He moved up out of Mississippi back in the Depression times, and in the ‘40s started a family in Chicago. That family carried gospel music and a message around the country and around the world. In 1964 they were right here on the Mall with the Poor People’s March and MLK, and they are right here now in 1997 on an American Roots 4th of July. I want you to make them all welcome on public radio and all around here, the Staple Singers!


(Music: “I'll Take You There” The Staple Singers
American Roots Fourth of July Concert in Washington DC 1997 Original Recording)


To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at