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Wawa Welcome America announces its headliners and the return of Parkway fireworks

Bebe Rexha and Flo Rida will take the stage at the Mann Center.

Bebe Rexha and Flo Rida will headline Wawa Welcome America for 2021.
Bebe Rexha and Flo Rida will headline Wawa Welcome America for 2021.Read moreAssociated Press

Bebe Rexha and Flo Rida will headline the in-person return of Wawa Welcome America, the city’s annual Fourth of July festival that is set to move from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Mann Center this year.

And, yes, a live fireworks display will return, lighting up the sky over the Philadelphia Museum of Art to close out the Independence Day celebration.

“Each year, our nation and the world looks to Philadelphia as the gold standard in July Fourth celebrations,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday outside the Mann Center, an outdoor concert space in West Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. “This year’s festival may not look the way it has in previous years, but nothing can diminish the energy, excitement, and electricity that can be felt in every neighborhood and community as we come together to give our city something to really celebrate.”

“Let’s just have a good time for a change,” the mayor added. “After this year, have a good time. Have fun.”

The festivities will run for 16 days, its longest span yet, with a focus on Black history and multicultural education.

The events will begin June 19, the Juneteenth holiday that marks the anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States. On that day, the African American Museum in Philadelphia, a Welcome America partner, will host an outdoor celebration, and will offer free admission June 19 and 20. The following two Saturdays, the museum will host educational Freedom-Liberty celebrations that highlight African American history and culture. And among six free movie screenings held over the course of the 16 days will be a documentary on the Tulsa race massacre and the biographical movie Hidden Figures, which tells the story of three Black women NASA mathematicians who played pivotal roles in the Space Race.

“I realized a long time ago: Black history is American history,” said Ivan Henderson, the museum’s vice president of programming. “And Philadelphia’s Black history is American history. But also because of what Philadelphia is and its age, Philadelphia history and therefore its Black history is also world history.”

Throughout the festival, other museums and attractions will also offer free admission on certain days. Wawa Hoagie Day will be celebrated at Independence Mall on July 1.

Last summer’s Welcome America event was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic and featured headliners Jason Derulo and Tony Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo. NBC10 broadcast the performances live from the Met Philadelphia. There were no live fireworks, though a replay of the 2019 fireworks was aired on TV.

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Henderson said it was important that the events of 2020 are remembered as Philadelphians and out-of-town guests gather again to celebrate safely.

“Our community and our country are still reeling and healing from the collective public traumas of COVID-19 and the social and racial injustices that have occurred within the last year,” he said. “We believe that our museum, AAMP, its programs and its mission, are necessary components for healing, wellness, and rebuilding our community.”

Before 2020, Welcome America was a days-long, block-party-like celebration that filled the Parkway each Independence Day with thousands of residents and tourists.

This summer’s festival will look a bit different in this pandemic world. Free tickets will be required, with attendees chosen via a drawing, and attendance will be limited at the Mann, which can hold fewer people than the Parkway. Preregistration begins later this month.

Folks will be permitted to gather on the Parkway starting at 8 p.m., organizers said, to once again take in the fireworks display over the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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And as the tourism industry looks to recover financially from months of pandemic restrictions, the Welcome America festival will be advertised across the country, including with a national commercial that encourages people to visit the city for the holidays.

“We have never missed a festival since 1777,” said Jeff Guaracino, Visit Philadelphia president and CEO. “And even during COVID and coming back, we are not missing a beat. And that’s what Philadelphia does.”