Before anyone brought fireworks to Starkville's official Independence Day celebration, John Robert Arnold was bringing ice cream.
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Arnold, manager of Starkville Tours, said he has brought free ice cream to the celebration for 30 years, formerly from Columbus but now from LuVel Dairy in Kosciusko. For about half as long, he has been singing at the celebration with former Starkville assistant superintendent Fenton Peters in a group called The Arnold-Peters Happy Singers.
"He and I go back a far ways singing together, so he and I have this group that sings together," Arnold said. " Most of all the members are in our First United Methodist Church choir. We don't sing the blues; that's why we call ourselves the Arnold-Peters Happy Singers."
Starkville Parks and Recreation will hold a Fourth of July Celebration at the Starkville Sportsplex at 4 p.m., with fireworks starting at 9 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.
The event's newest feature is a visit from 35 candidates for local and state office running in this year's elections. Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Rye said this addition would allow candidates to speak to their constituents, not only from a podium, but also in mingling with the crowds.
"We sent out invitations to all local and state political candidates," Rye said. "Republican, Democrat, Independent, Reform, it doesn't matter what party they're in."
Rye said the candidates will speak for no more than 5 minutes each, starting at 6 p.m. For a schedule of candidates, please refer to See Hear.
Children's inflatables from Jumpers will be available from the start of the event, Rye said, and at about 5:30, the Starkville Tea Party will serve hot dogs. While the hot dogs are free, Rye said, they will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, as they are limited to about 800-1,000 servings.
Rye said the event attracted an estimated crowd of 5,000 last year, with fewer celebrations in the area to compete against than are available this year and in years past.
"We were the only community in the Golden Triangle to shoot fireworks last year due to budget constraints," Rye said. "So we attracted not just Starkville residents, but we also attracted Golden Triangle residents."
Pyrofire Displays in Southaven is supplying the fireworks, Rye said, and the show will last about 20 minutes and feature patriotic music. Rye said Parks and Recreation is working to make it worthwhile for people to obey laws against shooting fireworks in the city limits.
"We do encourage people to come out and let the professionals take care of the fireworks," Rye said.
The Arnold-Peters Happy Singers will perform between the end of the political speeches at 8:40 p.m. and the start of the fireworks at 9 p.m. The singers include Arnold, Peters, Ross Williams, Gloria Williams, Dora Williams, Wallace Killcreas, Ruth De La Cruz, Gray Carlisle, Judy Carlisle, and Tom Henderson. The group is an a capella group save for Henderson, who plays the banjo.
Arnold said the group sticks primarily to old American classics, including "Home on the Range," "God Bless America," "Oh Susannah," "America the Beautiful," "Camptown Races," and "The Star-Spangled Banner." They also sing hymns and gospel music, he said, including "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," "Amazing Grace" and "Give Me That Old Time Religion."
"We've been singing for probably 15 years as a group," Arnold said. "We sing things that are really familiar songs, so that people can join along with us singing."