Army Field Band rehearsal

Col. Thomas Palmatier, the group's commander and conductor, leads a Thursday morning rehearsal at Fort Meade of the Army Field Band. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing / June 22, 2011)

"She used to tie her hair up in ribbons and bows, sign her letters with X's and O's," sang Sgt. 1st Class Erica Russo as she smiled and swayed in front of a small group of backup vocalists.

As her strong alto voice belted out the familiar notes of Trisha Yearwood's "X's and O's," the 65 members of the United States Army Field Band played along behind her June 23.

Russo's fatigues blended in with the green upholstery and wooden floors of the large practice room at Fort Meade.

The Catonsville resident will be part of the 29-member Soldiers' Chorus that will accompany the field band on a national tour that include a July 4 performance in Boston with the Boston Pops Orchestra.

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The show will be broadcast live from 10-11 p.m. from the Charles River Esplanade by CBS and will feature Lionel Richie as a guest artist.

Russo has performed all over the country with the field band and chorus, which travels thousands of miles a year during three national tours.

From country and Motown to more traditional pieces, the band performs a wide variety of music on tour and during a summer concert series open to the public at 7 p.m. Saturdays in August at Constitution Park.

"It has been such a remarkable opportunity, every day," said Russo, who has sung with the choir for 10 years.

"My grandparents both served in World War II and I still have most of my grandfather's medals and awards, and I have his dress jacket," said Russo, referencing her maternal grandparents, the late Marvin and Dorothy Pike — the latter of whom worked on decoding projects for the Department of the Navy.

"It's so great to be able to think that I have this opportunity to serve my country, and to do something that I love and know that I'm continuing a family tradition," she said.

Growing up in Florida, Russo started singing at age 9 — performing in school choirs and children's theater groups.

"My favorite movie in the whole world is 'The Sound of Music'," said Russo, remembering how she would watch it each year as a little girl whenever it was on television.

"I would watch Maria on that mountain top and I was like, 'I want to do that when I grow up.' " she said.

After graduating from high school in 1990, Russo attended Florida State University, where she got bachelor's degrees in Russian and Music.

She received a master's degree in Russian musicology from Ohio State University, where she met her husband, Technical Sgt. Tadd Russo, a member of the U.S. Air Force Band, in a conducting class.

The couple have one daughter, Rachel, 3.

After graduation, Russo sang in various choirs and taught music at a private girls' school inColumbus, Ohio.

But after receiving an email from a former college roommate about an opening in the Soldiers' Chorus, she flew to Maryland to audition.

"I was like, 'You know what? I think going to basic training is going to be so much easier than parent-teacher conferences.' " she said.

And in some ways, it was.