It seems the natural way to end any July 4th celebration, but this year the song has special meaning to the Baton Rouge Concert Band.
“It was Lew’s favorite,” trombonist Jim Kersh says. “He’d get upset if we didn’t end the concert with ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ so this year, we’re dedicating the song to him.”
Lew Carter served as the “Voice of the Baton Rouge Concert Band” for more than three decades. Carter died on June 26.
The band will take its place on the Louisiana State Capitol steps on Saturday to perform its Independence Day Concert. The music begins at 7:30 p.m.
Carter was the band’s narrator, introducting each song with a story.
“But Lew always knew the stories behind the story, and he would add to whatever we gave him,” conductor Sheily Bell says. “He just had a way of making everything more interesting.”
This year, Carter’s anecdotes would have included narratives about George M. Cohan’s “Star Spangled Spectacular,” Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and Bob Lowden’s arrangement of the “American Forces Salute,” featuring vocalist Fred Peterbark, assistant dean for the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts.
“Lew really loved the band,” tuba player Jim Young says. “One time, he had surgery two days before one of our concerts. We thought he was going to miss that one, but he was there. We asked him why, and he said, ‘Why not?’ That was Lew.”
The band recently played two concerts commemorating the D-Day anniversary at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Both performances were outside, one in the morning, the other in the evening.
“Lew was in his 90s, and he drove himself to New Orleans for that concert,” Young says.
“He insisted on driving himself home, too,” Bell says.
That was after the extreme heat sent Carter to a local hospital. He returned to the museum after doctors checked him out and sat inside in a wheelchair until the beginning of the evening concert.
“He had the concert script in his hands, and he refused to let anyone take it away from him,” Bell says. “He was there for the band, and he was determined to do that concert.”
It would be his last with the band.
Carter was born Lewis Loring Carter Jr. on May 22, 1923, in Lewiston, Maine. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature and was one of the founders of Baton Rouge’s public radio station, WRKF.
Carter also hosted a show on WRKF for 35 years and was involved with the Boy Scouts of America for 80 years.
“He was also a NCAA track and field official, and he played tenor saxophone, though not with the band,” Bell says.
The band has had substitute narrators from time to time, WAFB-TV’s Diane Deaton being one of those voices. But Carter always returned.
“We’re going to miss him,” Young says.
And the band will remember him with Carter’s favorite song, one that will welcome the July 4th fireworks over the river while celebrating its voice.