Neil Diamond sings with the Boston Pops at the July 4th Fireworks Spectacular

Neil Diamond will sing ”Sweet Caroline” with the Boston Pops at the July 4 celebration, and conductor Keith Lockhart expects the musical equivalent of a ball soaring over the Green Monster. ”I always thought all he has to do is come here and sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘America’ and we’d have a home run,” said Lockhart, who will conduct the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra in its Fireworks Spectacular for the 15th time. ”Everybody in sight will be singing along and howling with him. I think it will rock the joint.”

Lockhart will be meeting Diamond for the first time, but the legend?s hit ”Sweet Caroline” is like an old friend. It’s played at every Red Sox home game, and Lockhart, an avowed fan, conducted it on the Boston Pops’ new CD, ”The Red Sox Album,” released on opening day this year.

Diamond has been on the Pops’ wish list for years, Lockhart said. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, Diamond received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

”He’s an iconic American pop artist, who appeals to a broad swath of people,” Lockhart said. ”He’s been on the scene for a long time and sold a ridiculous number of recordings. We try to get someone whom everyone puts on the stand as a big name in American culture”

In addition to accompanying Diamond on four songs, the orchestra will perform Aaron Copland’s ”Lincoln Portrait” in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. The narrative will be read by U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights leader who was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s.

”This will be significant in so many ways because he is the last person in the leadership of the Martin Luther King coalition who is still actively involved,” Lockhart said.

”He spoke at the Lincoln Memorial when King was there. Talk about ‘I Have a Dream’ and fulfilling that dream. He’s really seen it all.”

Lockhart also will lead the orchestra in the traditional playing of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and a selection of patriotic songs, which he said he feels will be especially meaningful this year.

”Of course, the July 4 after 9/11 had particular significance to people in the audience, and I think this one will too, partly because of the sweeping changes that we’re all a part of,” Lockhart said.

”It’s an interesting mix because there?s a feeling of optimism confounded with a feeling of economic depression, so it’s an unsettled time. But good changes have come from unsettled times.”

The celebration will be hosted by Craig Ferguson, of ”The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” While the Pops did not sponsor a singing competition this year, the concert will have local talent. ”Syncopation,” a jazz-based vocal ensemble from Berklee College of Music, will sing. And Lockhart is excited that Oladunni Oladipo, a 10-year-old girl from Canton who performed at the Boston Pops Annual Gospel Night at Symphony Hall, will sing a song based on the text of the Pledge of Allegiance.

While the Fourth of July concert is not the most significant musically, its impact is enormous, he said. More than half a million people fill the Esplanade by the Hatch Shell and about 10 million people in America and around the world watch or listen to the live broadcast.

”With that mass of people in the audience, it stops being a concert and is more of a sociological phenomenon,” Lockhart said.

”When I see that many people celebrating the enduring values of our country, and it’s more people than a good-size American city, it’s stirring. It does reinforce my belief in our country’s ideals.”

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