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28 years later, Tucson Boys Chorus returns to D.C. for National Christmas Tree Lighting

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The Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus is in Washington, D.C., this week for the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 5 — the third time the chorus has been part of the prestigious event.

But this year, the group has a starring role. The boys, 24 in all with a dozen each from the younger Touring Chorus and the high-school-aged Young Men's Ensemble, will perform the opening song just before President Donald Trump flips the switch on the 60-foot New Mexico blue spruce in the White House's President's Park.

"That very first number is going to be the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus singing 'Carol of the Bells' with the Marine Band," said an excited Julian Ackerley, reached by phone Tuesday as he and the chorus were taking a train from Baltimore, Maryland, into D.C. 

This year's ceremony comes 28 years after the group's last D.C. Christmas event in 1991 when George H.W. Bush was president. And that event came 28 years after their first Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 1963, when Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

Chorus spokesman Ed Ackerley, Julian Ackerley's brother, said the chorus has applied a number of times over its 80 years but was only approved twice, and both those times were 28 years apart.

"Can you believe that? It wasn't by design but it just happened that we get picked every 28 years," Julian Ackerley added, then joked that he hoped the chorus wouldn't have to wait another 28 years to participate again.

Presidents have participated in the National Christmas Tree Lighting since 1923, when Calvin Coolidge celebrated the first one. This is the 97th annual event.

The Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus is in a lineup with country singers Jesse James Decker and Spensha Baker, pop singer Chevelle Shepard, Christian pop singer Colton Dixon, the U.S. Air Force rock band Max Impact, the United States Marine Band and the West Tennessee Youth Chorus. In addition to the opening song, the chorus will perform "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" during the hour-long event, which will be broadcast Monday, Dec. 9,  on Ovation and REELZ. Check your local listings for times. 

In addition to Thursday's event, the chorus was expected on Wednesday, Dec. 4, to perform at the Senate Office Building in an appearance arranged by Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, Ackerley said.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.

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