The 96th National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., is featuring performances by the American Military Spouses Choir (AMSC), a group of vocal performers who - as the name implies - are all married to active-duty servicemembers.
Called "The Force Behind the Force," the group was put together by the Center for American Military Music Opportunities (CAMMO) in 2012, in response to a request by famed producer David Foster for military spouses to feature in a show at the Kennedy Center. CAMMO is a nonprofit founded in 2009 by U.S. Navy veteran Cathie Lechareas and U.S. Army veteran Victor Hurtado. It believes in the healing power of music, and works in music therapy and develops careers in the music industry for servicemembers and veterans.
Since that first performance in May 2012, they have sung at the residence of Vice President Joe Biden and appeared as a top-15 act on the hit summer NBC series “America’s Got Talent.” They have appeared on "The Queen Latifah Show," The Hallmark Channel’s "Home and Family" (as themselves and with Matt Rogers from "American Idol"), performed the national anthem for the San Antoinio Spurs and at the Homeward Bound Telethon benefiting programs designed to treat PTSD and TBI, as well as at venues across the country and a return performance at the Kennedy Center.
They were recently honored by USO as recipients of the 2014 Legacy of Hope Award. They are now being booked all over the country doing shows in support of organizations such as the Semper Fi Fund and the Special Forces Charitable Trust. There are plans to record and tour both bases and cities in the United States and abroad.
Hurtado is the founder and artistic director of AMSC. He spoke with The American Legion ahead of the group's first performance at the Patriotic Memorial Service on Sunday. AMSC will perform again Tuesday at the Patriotic Memorial Service.
Can you give some background on how the group was formed? What gave you the idea for it?
Hurtado: CAMMO answered the call (from Foster) with an exhaustive search to cast a stellar group of voices. The performance was to be for one night, but after hearing them and seeing the crowd's reaction, the artistic team knew they were something special. Now stationed all over the country and the world, they continue to find ways to come together, rehearsing via distance technology and relying on a dedicated team of military veteran music professionals to prepare them.
What is the audition process and performance schedule like? How many members are in the group at any given time?
Hurtado: The audition process is ongoing, and anyone can write directly to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.cammomusic.org for more information. At the moment we have 50 members, and hope to create regional and base groups that will be able to participate at any given moment if cast. When we are booked for a show it will depend on the event or the venue. We will do shows with as few as 10 choir members or as many as 50 (and can grow as the choir grows nationally).
Have you released an album? Do you plan to?
We have recorded "The Promise That We Make," which has not been released to the public yet. We have not released an album yet but there are plans to do so next year, as well as planned tours. The song will be available at the CAMMO booth and via choir representatives at the convention for a discounted price.
What is the most powerful experience you’ve had with the group?
Hurtado: There have been so many. When you think about the very first time they were together on the stage at the Kennedy Center after just meeting the night before, it really gives you an idea of how special this choir is. Being on the stage, representing military spouses and being joined by the likes of Chaka Khan, Jewel and David Foster is really a "pinch yourself" moment, except you don't have time to because you are now a bona fide artist and have to deliver a performance on one of the most prestigious stages in the nation and with the most prolific producer at the piano ... not to mention you're singing a song produced and sung for the first time!
One of the most powerful moments of our performance history was the night we sang "Hero," which was cleared by Mariah Carey herself. Just the overwhelming response from the audience at Radio City Music Hall, and the fact that veterans and servicemembers had actually worked on the arrangements and all of the preparations and rehearsals, was almost more than they could take. They definitely learned to sing through tears and excitement.
Are any of the members veterans themselves?
Hurtado: We have some veterans, reservists and active-duty members.
How is it decided which songs to perform and where?
Hurtado: We have a set of songs that we have arranged and rehearsed, and then we also work with whomever is booking us or coordinating an event to add new music if feasible. We are constantly learning new material and the artistic team is working with our agency and creative team to work on presentation and material. As the artistic director for CAMMO, which acts as the label in conjunction with our agency, I've got my finger on the pulse of music and performance and really am making decisions on a constant basis, along with the musical, creative and management team, to ensure that we continue to put our best foot forward.
Anything else you’d like our members and convention attendees to know?
Hurtado: We would like the Legion members to know that it is an honor to be able to give "The Force Behind the Force" a voice that resonates organically and at the same time allows us to fulfill our dreams and aspirations to perform on the national and world stage.
For more information about CAMMO or ASMC, visit www.cammomusic.org.