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Boston Pops’ July Fourth broadcast will mix new performances with past highlights

'A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes' will honor front-line workers and acknowledge the fight against racism

Queen Latifah's performance with the Boston Pops in 2019 is among the highlights from past Fourth of July shows that will be included in this year's special.
Queen Latifah's performance with the Boston Pops in 2019 is among the highlights from past Fourth of July shows that will be included in this year's special.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/file

This Independence Day, the Charles River Esplanade will be absent the usual crowds, the cannons will remain silent, and the fireworks barge will stay docked. (Considering the boom in illegal pyrotechnics activity, some Bostonians have had enough fireworks for one summer already.) But the Boston Pops will be at the center of a Bloomberg July Fourth special broadcast, titled “A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes,” which will honor front-line and essential workers as well as those who have died during the ongoing pandemic.

The special, which will be broadcast on Bloomberg Television and Radio and simulcast on WHDH-TV beginning at 8 p.m., will include selections drawn from the past few years as well as performances recorded especially for this broadcast. “We were . . . very sure that we didn’t want it to just be a rerun. We wanted to be able to create something new that had some sense of this most unusual time that we find ourselves in,” Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart said in a phone interview Thursday.

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Most of the newer segments are virtual performances recorded from Pops players’ homes, including the orchestra’s socially distant performance of John Williams’s “Summon the Heroes” that went viral in May. But there’s one new performance without any split screens; recently, Lockhart and gospel vocalist Renese King headed to WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio and adhered to physical distancing guidelines while recording “God Bless America” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often referred to as the Black national anthem.

In addition to honoring heroes of the current health crisis, Lockhart said he feels it’s important to use the special to acknowledge the ongoing fight against racism, as the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police and ensuing protests have shone a bright light on the work still to be done.

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“One of the things I’ve always believed about the Fourth of July is that it can be a patriotic celebration and still look directly at the challenges that are facing us,” he said. “The definition of patriotism is not just wrapping yourself in a flag and pretending everything’s great.”

Rebroadcast highlights from previous Fireworks Spectaculars include Leslie Odom Jr., Queen Latifah, Rhiannon Giddens, Rita Moreno, Arlo Guthrie, and the Texas Tenors, Lynn native Amanda Mena, and the US Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus, which will join the Pops for “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” As always, the celebration’s grand finale will be Tchaikovsky’s “1812″ Overture, followed by a fireworks display.

“I think we’re going to do something that’s really entertaining and reflective of where we are as a people right now,” said Lockhart.

The conductor, who has worked every July Fourth since 1990, says he’ll be spending the holiday with friends at a backyard gathering. He doesn’t know if he’ll watch the special as it airs or save it for later: “I don’t want them to see me weeping openly on the Fourth of July,” he said with a laugh. And next summer, he hopes he’ll be back at work on the Esplanade. “I very much don’t want the day off after this year.”

A BOSTON POPS SALUTE TO OUR HEROES

On Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Radio, and WHDH-TV. July 4, 8 p.m. bostonpopsjuly4th.org