Ray Chew wants to make the music as spectacular as the fireworks.
The Harlem native — a musical arranger, composer, producer, bandleader, producer and musical director for more than four decades — has been tapped to curate the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular this year.
With a stellar list of credits including “Dancing With the Stars,” “American Idol,” the BET Awards and the Primetime Emmy Awards, Chew is bringing a splash of color to America’s time-honored tradition. This marks the 46th year of one of New York City’s most iconic brands celebrating the country’s 1776 birthday.
For his first time scoring the 25-minute pyrotechnic portion of the program, Chew incorporates diverse elements from the African American music tradition. He summoned revered R&B balladeer Kenny Lattimore and the Community Baptist Choir Of Englewood, N.J., for a rendition of James Weldon Johnson’s hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — often referred to as “The Black National Anthem.”
“[It] has been performed at many events over the decades, so when I conceived of the arrangement for this show, I thought about the journey of our ancestors and wanted their voices felt in the score,” Chew told the Daily News. “So I added the rhythms of West Africa, and these great voices spoke of the spirits of those who have come before us.”
He attended the Harlem School of the Arts, was mentored by Quincy Jones and has worked with R&B greats like Diana Ross, Luther Vandross and Melba Moore. He became musical director for “Showtime at the Apollo” in the 1990s, leading to a slew of high-profile gigs.
Chew said when Macy’s and NBC invited him to participate in this year’s score, he wanted to create a work that spoke to his journey as a native New Yorker and a student of music.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to tell the story of an American journey as I saw it, and I was able to really include many voices and genres that may not have previously been heard in the score. I wanted to make it an inclusive story,” said Chew, who has worked on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade but not previously on the July 4th show.
“It was very important to me to tell the story of how jazz, which is really America’s classical music, influenced hip hop … the soundtrack to popular culture. So this year the audience will hear hot music meets John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.”
Chew, who was a member of “Saturday Night Live” band in the ‘80s, said he used a snapshot of himself riding the city’s transit system during rush hour to Times Square in his youth as the inspiration for his July 4th music choices.
“You will see every ethnicity in every culture right there, people going about their business and just being alive … in that subway car and figuring it out together,” he said. “And that’s been my New York experience growing up and riding the subway every day of my life.”
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Chew enlisted Tony Award winner Joaquina Kalukango as part of this year’s festivities. The “Paradise Square” star will sing a medley of Samuel Francis Smith’s patriotic songs “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)” and “America the Beautiful.”
“I was very moved by her performance at this year’s Tony Awards broadcast and knew she would do something really special for my score,” he said. “Her voice soars through the 70-piece orchestral arrangement.”
“Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular” creative producer Wesley Whatley told The News he encouraged Chew “to build a score from his own point of view, create a musical program that speaks to his experiences and inspirations.”
Seven months in the making, the mission was accomplished.
“He poured his heart into fresh arrangements of classic songs and original soulful melodies while balancing it all with feel good, favorites that will have New Yorkers singing and clapping along until the final note,” Whatley said. “Ray’s artistry and genius are on full display in every note.”
New Yorkers can catch the show in person, and NBC will air the show from 8-10 p.m. and stream it on Peacock.