Since 1923, the annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree has been a highlight of the holiday season in Washington, DC. Each year a magnificent tree is brought in to the capitol for placement at the White House, where it is decorated and lit at a gala ceremony for invited guests.
Traditionally, the Christmas decorations at the White House are under the direction of the First Lady, who since 1954, has also opened a section of her and the President’s home to citizens, decked out in its holiday finery. Trees representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five US territories also grace the White House lawn, decorated by representatives of their local residents.
In recent times, the lighting of the national tree has been televised as a celebration of American music in its many forms, with participation from a variety of entertainers, but always including a contingent of US military performers. This year, the US Navy Concert Band has been chosen, with a special spot created for the Navy’s new banjo player, Haley Stiltner.
Haley, a graduate of the ETSU Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music Studies program, is a member of the the Navy’s Country Current band, a group launched by Bill Emerson of Country Gentlemen fame in 1989. She serves as the first female banjo player in the Navy, and began her tenure this year following the retirement of Keith Arneson. Ever since her teen years, Haley has been recognized as an exceptional banjo player and songwriter, with one of her compositions, It’s Never Too Late, being recorded by Rhonda Vincent.
Another of the featured artists on the show, Wynonna Judd, requested a banjo player for her portion of the program, and the Navy had just the thing. Country Current shares facilities with the Concert Band, and Stiltner quickly found herself included. That’s quite an introduction into the limelight!
The Tree Lighting actually occurred last Thursday, but the program was taped to be televised tonight on the Hallmark Channel at 7:00 p.m. (EST). Also appearing will be Kathie Lee Gifford and Dean Cain as hosts, with music from Craig Campbell, The Beach Boys, Boys II Bow Ties, The Texas Tenors, Manheim Steamroller, Jack Wagner, Steve Gibson, and Us The Duo.
Congratulations Haley – we’ll be watching!