National Memorial Day Concert goes virtual on PBS

PBS’ 31st annual telecast includes highlights from previous years

Joe Mantegna

Longtime friends Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise have hosted many National Memorial Day Concerts together, but this year’s will be unique.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event will go virtual with its 31st annual PBS broadcast Sunday, May 24 (check local listings). Rather than traveling to Washington, D.C., the two award-winning actors, Chicago natives and strong military supporters will reunite at Sinise’s California office — socially distancing, of course — to introduce new segments plus highlights from previous years’ concerts, featuring such stars as Oscar nominees Sam Elliott, Cynthia Erivo and Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Garner, Lisa Kudrow, Jon Hamm, opera legend Renee Fleming, country music’s Trace Adkins and Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara. Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.) will make his customary appearance.

As Mantegna attests, Memorial Day always is Memorial Day, whatever else is happening in the world. “It’s not just about the past, but about what’s happening today as well,” the “Criminal Minds” alum maintains. “While it’s specifically about our military, this (concert) also will talk about first responders, even in terms of people like grocery clerks who are performing day-to-day services that our country needs. They are putting their lives on the line for our safety, so it’s worth acknowledging.”

Gary Sinise

Returning to the concert after two years, Sinise affirms, “I missed it. I started doing it in 2005, and it was only for very good reasons (including the birth of a grandchild, with another due soon) that I didn’t get to D.C. And I won’t be there this time — no one will (for the special) — but it should be a great show.”

In backing professionals at the forefront of battling the coronavirus, the nonprofit Gary Sinise Foundation is providing equipment and grants through its donor-supported Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service.

“We made a call early on to suspend all our events and travel,” Sinise says, “but we repurposed a lot of our staff to work from home and process a lot of requests for grants and assistance with emergencies. And we have this new campaign for people who want to support our efforts.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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