March 30, 2015 -- No one was prepared for the star power of the guest soloist who performed with the Marine Band’s Free Country ensemble on March 18 at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors’ (TAPS) annual gala at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Sporting his four-star rank insignia, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Army Gen. Martin Dempsey joined the musicians on two Irish folksongs to express his respect for TAPS, which provides comfort and resources to the surviving families of fallen servicemen and women. In his remarks Dempsey said, “I admire the strength and resilience of the families of the fallen…I struggle to find the right words to tell you all what you mean to us…we draw such strength from you… . This is a family.”
He proceeded to sing, a cappella and initially unaccompanied, “Red is the Rose,” a sad song of love and loss and followed it up with a rousing rendition of “The Irish Pub.” After introducing all of the members of Free Country, to include Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth Wolin performing a traditional bodhran drum, Dempsey said, “The theme of [“The Irish Pub”] is, and I can vouch for this because I travel around the world, you can’t go anyplace, I mean anywhere, without finding an Irish pub. And I thought it was a pretty good symbol or metaphor of the fact that TAPS is where you need them to be all across this country.” He also told the audience that singing with Free Country is one of the advantages to being the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The week before the TAPS event, Dempsey found time in his extraordinarily busy schedule to rehearse with Free Country at the Marine Barracks Annex in Washington, D.C. Baritone vocalist Master Sgt. Kevin Bennear said the general came in like a long-lost member of the group. “He knew he wanted to sing ‘Red is the Rose’ and ‘The Irish Pub’ in the style of the Irish folksong group The High Kings,” Bennear explained. Dempsey has called Bennear one of his favorite singers and frequently requests him for special events.
But this was not the general’s first time performing with the Marine Band. Violin player and vocalist Master Gunnery Sgt. Peter Wilson said Dempsey has joined them before singing “Danny Boy” and “New York, New York” during after-dinner entertainment at the Chairman’s quarters on Fort Myer. Wilson surmised that the general’s penchant for Irish music is more than just a personal preference. While pursuing a master’s degree in English from Duke University in Durham, N.C., he said Dempsey studied Irish literature and poetry, which is linked to a deep interest in his Irish ancestry.
Watch the full performance here.