When selecting music earlier this year for Sunday's 31st annual Mayor's Christmas Concert, Madora Graffeo contacted Clifton Truman Daniel.
Years before his grandmother Bess became the nation's first lady, she had been one of the founding members of what became Community Services League, the benefitting organization from the concert which has been celebrating its 100th birthday this year.
Graffeo, the music teacher at Fairmount Elementary who serves as the children's conductor this year, hoped to learn Bess' favorite Christmas song. While Clifton Truman Daniel couldn't remember that specifically, she said, he knew Harry and Bess Truman loved returning to their hometown Independence for the holidays.
With that, “I'll Be Home for Christmas,” written in the midst of World War II and considered a morale booster after Bing Crosby recorded it, went on Graffeo's song list. Her son McLane will sing the opening solo, before hundreds of fourth graders from the Independence School District join in a jazzed-up rendition.
The fourth graders also went through the “Hallelujah” chorus and a song called “Seven Feet of Snow” during their rehearsal Thursday morning at the Community of Christ Auditorium. Marilyn Gunn, who directed last year, will accompany on piano and Kevin Kessinger on organ.
Sunday's free concert is at 2:30 p.m., and also will include performances from the Truman and Van Horn high school concert choirs, the Young MAIster Singers from the Music Arts Institute and the Spirit of Independence Concert Band. Independence Mayor Eileen Weir will host the event, and Dick Wilson of 94.9 KCMO will serve as emcee.
Graffeo told the students – nearly 1,000 of them from 18 elementaries – that, “This is the most people I've conducted, and I bet this is the most people you've ever sung with.”
At the very least, she said later, it's the most fourth graders she's led, and what might seem to be a daunting task was made easier by the prior instruction from all other elementary music teachers in the district. Graffeo said Thursday's rehearsal was more smooth than she feared.
“They were well-prepared,” she said of the students. “It's thanks to all the work by the teachers.
“I want them to have a really good time. It's an experience of a lifetime for many of them. We're all in one community today.”
Though the concert is free, donations will be accepted. Since its start in 1985 – thanks to then-mayor Barbara Potts and then-CSL director Dorace Wilson – the event has raised more than $320,000 for assistance programs and services that CSL administers.
Two other events this weekend will benefit CSL locations:
• The 18th annual Blue Springs Spirit of Caring Concert, featuring performances from various groups in the Blue Springs School District, is 2 p.m. Sunday at the Performing Arts Center at Blue Springs High School, 2000 N.W. Ashton Drive.
Mayor Carson Ross is the emcee. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at City Hall, 903 W. Main St., or at the door.
• Sunday's Oak Grove Christmas & Dessert Auction is at the Oak Grove Civic Center, 2100 S. Broadway. Admission is free, and the doors open at 1 p.m. The dessert auction begins at 2 p.m., and Christmas decorations also will be available for bidding.