1970 - 1994: The Statler Brothers initiated this exciting event when they were walking through Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park on Independence Day 1969 and there was nothing whatsoever going on. The only observance related to July 4th that year was a request from City officials for a "Tolling of the Bells" at 2 PM when all citizens were asked to ring a bell in order to celebrate the founding of our nation. Brothers Harold and Don Reid, along with fellow band members Phil Balsley and Lew Dewitt, decided to do something about it and, in 1970, Happy Birthday USA was celebrated for the first time. Over the next 25 years, it grew to become a spectacular event attracting up to 100,000 people to Staunton to celebrate Independence Day. The final "Happy Birthday USA" was in 1994.
1995 - 2017: A core group of volunteer citizens took over management of the event in 1994 and worked diligently to continue the annual 4th of July celebration in Staunton. The success and excitement surrounding the event showed the community was definitely ready to embrace the work that had been accomplished in previous decades, plus create new traditions and share with a new generation. Many thank yous and high fives are in order to the ABC Committee for their time and attention for 20+ years in order to continue the family-oriented two-day event celebrating the Independence Day holiday.
2018 to present : Following the incredibly successful 2017 event, the ABC committee decided to dissolve their organization whereupon a new committee, led by Wil and Langdon Reid (sons of Statler Brothers Harold and Don Reid), was formed to resume with the planning of a future celebrations. The goal is to celebrate America’s birthday in the same family-oriented and wholesome tradition of food, fun, music and fireworks that Staunton has come to love.
FYI - The year 2019 marked the 50th annual occasion of this patriotic event started by the City of Staunton and the Statler Brothers. As Harold and Don would say "It all began with a walk in the park."
Official Event History
It was a hot summer day in the small idyllic town of Staunton, Virginia, where four guys walked on the humble makings of a country music stage and entertained a crowd of about 2,500 as the hometown quartet sang, laughed, and celebrated America’s most sacred and patriotic day. It was July 4, 1970. And the double Hall of Fame country music group, The Statler Brothers, were doing what they do best: singing and giving back to their fans.
The idea was thought of a year earlier, driving around their park, Gypsy Hill Park, and noticing only a few picnickers and Frisbee-throwers present on this lazy summer afternoon. On the rise of national success, the Statlers felt it was time to have their own 4th of July party and invite anybody and everybody. And so they did. Happy Birthday U.S.A was born. Charities, clubs, civic organizations, and churches all joined in and set up booths and sold food and goods. Boy Scout troops and the local VFW, bands and a Vesper speaker, community choirs and kids games; everyone participated. And the entire event was free. That inaugural year set things in motion, which grew to quadruple the size of Staunton and saw people represented from all 50 states and numerous countries and crowds of over 100,000 in attendance.
The Statler Brothers rode in the parade for it every year, played a concert on that evening and then, with their hand over their hearts, saluted the flag as T.A.P.S was played. The finale was a spectacular fireworks display and everyone left that night being refilled with a patriotic spirit, which confirmed how proud and blessed we are to be Americans.
The purpose of the event was to celebrate the birthday of our beautiful nation as well as an ultimate giving back to the community. Charities made money, people had fun, and friendships to last a lifetime were made among everyone who came.
The Statlers performed for Happy Birthday U.S.A for 25 years, making their last year in 1994. Every year, they always had a big name in Country music as their special guest. Reba, Conway Twitty, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, Don Williams and Jerry Reed to name a few. The event has carried on ever since and now this long-standing tradition and fun-filled event is in the hands of the Statler second generation, Country music duo, Wilson Fairchild.
Wilson Fairchild comprises Harold and Don Reid’s sons, Wil and Langdon, respectively. These two cousins bring to the stage that inherent family “blood” harmony, an energetic show of both original and familiar songs, peppered with their signature sense of humor, and an entertainment value that boasts of that traditional country music sound for all generations. These two men, along with a fantastic committee of enthusiastic community leaders, have resurrected those wonderful times the celebration offered years ago when the Statlers headlined the event. Now known as Happy Birthday America, it offers live entertainment throughout the day, a Vesper speaker, delicious food, a crowd-pleasing parade around the park, a 5K run, a free and exciting concert by Wilson Fairchild and a state-of-the-art fireworks display.
When you’re in Staunton on the 4th of July, you will be seeing red, white and blue at every turn and the absolute best way a small southern town hosts a party for their favorite Uncle Sam!